Political Science Graduate Speaks on Art Canvas > News > USC Dornsife

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Jessica Bellamy ’14, now a master’s candidate at USC Roski, uses paint and brush to make sense of the “dystopian utopia” of Los Angeles. [5 min read]

When she’s not rollerblading on the beach, you can find former student Jessica Bellamy painting in her studio while listening to public radio station KCRW. (Photos: Courtesy of Jessica Bellamy.)

Los Angeles’ most beautiful sunsets usually occur when a wildfire is raging. The sky is ablaze with orange, hot pink and lavender as smoke drifts across the Los Angeles Basin. Instagram feeds fill with snaps of the neon sky as news stories tally the acres burned.

Jessica Bellamy finds the most inspiring sunsets. For Bellamy, who graduated with a degree in political science from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 2014, the beautiful sunset from a disastrous fire is part of the dystopian/utopian experience of living in LA

Much of her work while currently pursuing an MFA at USC Roski School of Art and Design explores the tension of living on the edge of a tenuous paradise. For example, “fire followers” – the lush plants that thrive after a fire has swept through an area – make an appearance in a recent painting that also recorded the devastating march of a fire in real time.

“I made a bunch of etch marks in the bottom panel of the painting for the number of fires that burned 1,000 acres during the time I worked on it,” Bellamy explains. “By the time I finished, I think it was close to 100 points.”

The art of politics

Bellamy enrolled as a political science major at USC Dornsife with plans to eventually become a lawyer. She had taken art classes since she was a child, and both of her parents love working with their hands — her mother as a landscaper and her father in construction — so she decided to add classes from USC. Roski School of Art and Design to his schedule as well.

Her classes at USC Dornsife have helped her feel more comfortable with reviews occurring in her art classes, where students give feedback on the works of their classmates. She cites the European Thought II course (POSC 371) with Anthony Kammas, associate professor (teaching) of political science, as particularly helpful in finding her voice.

“At the beginning of my university studies, I was a bit shy and I didn’t speak unless asked. But, as soon as I started taking classes at Roski, all that political science talk from his class really took on a different relevance. I felt comfortable sharing and critiquing,” Bellamy says.

An internship at the Hammer Museum as an undergraduate reinforced her awareness that her place was in the arts rather than the law. She added a minor in fine art painting to her political science degree. After graduating, she got a job as an arts partnerships and events coordinator at public radio station KCRW in Santa Monica, California.

A modern artist

Jessica Bellamy will earn an MFA from USC Roski in 2022.

After finishing his shift at the radio station, Bellamy spent his evenings painting. She worked at her kitchen table, where helpful roommates cooked around her, and sold prints online.

Bellamy has earned commissions from major brands. She painted a live mural for Google Pixel at Coachella and painted custom sneakers for guests at a party hosted by Kenneth Cole. Eventually, she tallied her income as an artist in a spreadsheet and did her side work, and the time spent on art projects added up considerably.

She also realized that she wanted more community. “You don’t really understand that when you’re working full time and then trying to get involved in the art world as well,” Bellamy explains. “You don’t grow that fast on your own.”

After such a positive experience at USC for the first time, applying for the master’s program at USC Roski was a no-brainer. Her first year of school was mostly online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she was already familiar with the positive side of virtual connections: the gallery that represents her found her on Instagram.

However, she has moved away from the kitchen table and, with the easing of restrictions, she now receives friends and clients in her art studio.

The influence of USC Dornsife

Even though she moved on to another school, USC Dornsife continues to inspire. She recently attended an event hosted by USC Dornsife’s 3rd LA Project that celebrated the 50th anniversary of Reyner Banham’s influential book. Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies.

Banham’s 1971 book defined LA as consisting of four distinct areas: Surfurbia (beach surroundings), Autopia (city highways), The Foothills (surrounding hills), and Id Plains (plains at outside the city core). His work is a major source of inspiration for Bellamy, who plans to describe his own interpretations of core Los Angeles identities as part of his master’s thesis.

“I try to find new ecologies based on my own experience in the city. I look at the built and natural environment, but also pollution, smog and light, which kind of updates his vision,” Bellamy explains.

She hopes to enroll this fall in a class at USC Dornsife, “Los Angeles: A Polymathic Inquiry” (CORE 450), to help her further develop her thesis.

Revelation now

Bellamy’s painted sunsets are also layered with LA iconography: palm trees, chain-link fences, a Lakers player dunking a basket. Cuts of the Los Angeles Times are a particular obsession both as a source of inspiration and as a physical material. His archives generate a constant reminder of the theme of his work.

“Even when I seek [the archives] for keywords such as “immigration”. it will appear next to an op-ed about smog or what California needs to do in the future to survive, like we’re going to have an apocalypse here every year,” Bellamy says. “By physically incorporating press clippings into art, I think the political purpose comes through in a different way.”

When Bellamy isn’t in the studio or browsing through the archives, she can often be found in the “surfurbia”, rollerblading along the sidewalk of Dockweiler Beach Road – a pastime honed during the recent quarantine. Behind her hovering figure may be a dazzling Californian sunset, which she will likely drop onto the canvas later.

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