“I wanted to do it on my own terms,” Josh Beliso said. The recent graduate of the USC Roski School of Art and Design received his Master of Fine Arts degree in the spring and was planning his thesis exhibition at the school’s art gallery when the pandemic hit.
“At that point, it was clear that any art shows would be held virtually,” he said. “That didn’t really work for me, because I was making these 3D objects and they really needed to be experienced in person. I didn’t want people to see it through a window or a phone.”
As the months passed, Beliso — a contemporary artist known for his unique adaptation of classical stone — started to think about alternatives to art galleries. That’s when he got an idea.
“Outside,” he said. “I’d do it outside.”
“Well, actually in our backyard,” said his mother, Carolyn Beliso, with a big laugh. “Some of the neighbors might not be so thrilled, but they know our son is an artist.”
However, it was up to the dean of USC Roski, Haven Lin-Kirk, to decide whether or not to support the exhibition.
“This is exactly what you want your graduate students to do — challenge the norms and test the waters,” she said. “Of course, safety was first and foremost. But his proposal followed all health guidelines, such as wearing masks, physical distancing and limiting the number of guests, so it was a yes.”
The whole Beliso family pitches in for backyard art show
Beliso’s outdoor installation, Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana, includes three main pieces:
Groucho KnowsPersian Pink onyx, Sandalwood Black marble, wood, paint. 36x38x41 in.
Banana SplitsBardiglio Scuro marble. 21x36x21 in.
D‘s NutzFrench Rouge marble, Arabescato marble, epoxy. 36x6x6 in.
The Beliso family began prepping their backyard for the massive marble sculptures.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” said Beliso’s father, Tony Beliso. “I planted things to highlight the banana and got dried shrubbery to showcase the art of the nose — the yard plants complemented the pieces just like gallery walls would.”
At first, Beliso’s mother was hesitant about transforming the backyard into an outdoor art gallery. Then her emotions took over.
“I love the sculptures,” she said. “They make me smile and laugh.”
Which, according to the artist, is intentional.
“The objects are based in comedy ideas that have been around over 100 years,” Beliso said. “Toys that are highly recognizable, disposable objects sold at a 99-cents store. The Groucho Marx disguise glasses, the snake that pops out of the can or the banana used in skits by comedians — kind of this gag shock comedy.”
Beliso describes his process as taking very traditional art-making and applying it to everyday objects.
“Using an archaic medium such as stone to embody mundane objects is both a love letter to materialism and a subtle critique,” he said. “This process reveals the tension between high end and low end, as well as how the concept of ‘value’ is defined by objecthood.”
After the artwork is created comes that magical moment known as the installation, when the art is displayed. In this case, that was large marble sculptures placed in a suburban residential neighborhood in Manhattan Beach.
“I always love it when art connects us in surprising places,” said Nao Bustamante, director of MFA art at USC Roski. “I’m a big believer in accessible art, and I think the yard afforded different opportunities. All of sudden, you are imbibed with a different sort of essence through the artwork that’s placed there.”
Out of COVID-19 necessity comes artistic opportunity
Bustamante was one of the guests present at the backyard art show, along with a small group of the artist’s friends and family.
“I think his show really contributes uniquely to the environment of art in Los Angeles because it’s in person and outdoors,” she said. “There are a lot of things happening online, but the idea that a person can go and experience the work physically is really something special.”
According to Dean Lin-Kirk, there’s a lot to learn from absurd art in absurd times.
“The art ended up in the backyard out of necessity, but that provides a rare opportunity,” she said. “In that moment, there is a lot that happens for the artist and the audience interacting with it.”
Beliso said that, though his pieces were created pre-COVID, he hopes they will provide some levity during the gravity of recent days.
“Now more than ever, I want to bring humor into the lives of individuals,” he said. “I love comedy, I love humor and I love bringing that together with such a serious medium as stone.”
Asked for any final thoughts on his show, the artist — wearing a pair of plastic funny nose and glasses and a COVID-19 face mask — replied: “Don’t take life too seriously.”