Colors have deep, subconscious and subversive significance. The rods and cones in our eyes process them incessantly. They look for their presence even when they are absent. They crave them. There are colors and shades that take a few moments longer to process. Those found on a person’s face. Long Beach resident Cory Bilicko has such a face. One that is clad with a warm, colorful smile. It is more than a mere gesture of gaiety manifested by his lips. You can also see it in his eyes, in the way he waves his hands as he speaks and in the way his legs cross under his perked-up torso. He smiles with his whole body.
I feel his smile in every word he utters, in every concept he meticulously dissects and in every piece of art he creates. The artist’s easygoing personality is transmitted onto the canvas. It is present in every brushstroke. There’s a hedonistic undertone to everything that he does and chooses not to do. It invites you. It envelops you. It enraptures you. His paintings have the same effect. They don’t look like photographs or lifelike representations. They are alive, like an illusory face that our eyes carve out on the trunk of a tree, harkening to a world of childhood fables in which animals speak and trolls live under bridges. His paintings allow your imagination to be feral and run free with the apparitions in your mind.
Complex at first sight, his paintings don’t reveal themselves right away. You really need to look at them. You’re lured in by their beautiful distortion of reality. You become transfixed by the imagery. With every blink of your eyes, the image becomes sharper. His paintings have a fresco texture, mixed with the grittiness of eastern Orthodox art and the northern Renaissance. “With representational paintings, I think my way through them, but with abstract art, it’s about choosing colors that feel right,” Bilicko said. He associates certain feelings with certain colors and textures. “It’s not about choosing the right color, but the right amount,” he added. It is his belief that with a more limited color palette, paintings seem to have a more sophisticated look. Even as he searches for perfection in his pieces, the artist wants to show the imperfection and work that went into them, like the brushstrokes created by the painter’s hand.
His inspiration comes from a variety of places. “It comes from my fears, uncomfortable situations that have happened and nightmares,” Bilicko said. These are the things that get him into a certain headspace. “I think that’s what it is. I kind of have to get myself into a strange place where I don’t really know what’s up. That’s when I can be creative.” Placing himself in a different reality that he can exist in, to feel safe and comfortable. That’s really what his art is about. It’s about feeling. “This has become my artistic point of view. To take disturbing shit that I’ve experienced or that I’ve envisioned and doing something with it, to control it, to try to make it beautiful. Palatable,” Bilicko said.
Bilicko’s art is approachable. It is palpable. Palliative. It looks like something you can understand. Something you yourself could’ve made. “The word visionary comes to mind. Most of us have ideas, but what’s the difference between a person who has visions, creativity, imagination and someone who has those things but can then physicalize it, manifest it in a form that other people can experience. That’s an artist,” Bilicko stated. An artist is like a shaman having the capability to follow through and present his visions to others. In the end, he believes that it doesn’t matter whether society or he himself views himself as an artist. “I’ve never been like that. I just don’t give a fuck,” Bilicko said. “You know, if I take a shit on a canvas and call it art, many people aren’t going to like that.”
The titles that he chooses for his pieces range from literal or descriptive to more abstract and up for interpretations. “I never try to think of a title before I finish a piece or while I’m working on it. It’s always after,” Bilicko said. “They’re always an afterthought.” They usually come to him from a feeling he’s holding on to while he’s creating the work. It always goes back to the feeling. He likes to come up with titles after he has lived with the pieces for a while and has gotten to know them a little better. It’s a more natural fit. He feels for his paintings. He suffers for them. They are an extension of him. His children. Then and only then does the title become a more significant part of the piece as a whole. It engages the beholder; it makes them a part of the process as they have to do some of the work to figure it out. “People notice things about my art, and I love that,” Bilicko said, “I learn a lot about my pieces through what people tell me that they see.” The Long Beach artist enjoys it when people make up their own narratives for his art. Often when people ask him to explain the meaning of a piece, his reply will usually be, “I don’t know. You tell me,” Bilicko said bursting into laughter. “You tell me what you see, because I don’t know.” The art lends itself to any kind of interpretation. It is art that is meant to be interacted with, meant to be touched and touched by. “I do hope that my art, in general, helps people and also that my story helps people,” he added.
Bilicko’s paintings have a narrative that places the viewer in the middle of the action. They are narratives that you can look at, ingest, digest and then profess to someone else. They are oral histories. Like cave paintings that existed before language itself. His art allows you to think about it while at the same time not overthink and simply immerse yourself completely in it. “My art is about feeling good,” he said as he cued Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ on his playlist. “It’s about making myself feel better.”
He paints as a way of digesting a feeling. “It’s part of the cathartic process, the physical nature of creating,” Bilicko said. In abstract art there are no rules. It is more random. “My abstract art is an expression of my emotions whereas my representational art is an expression of my thoughts,” he added. His art is an exploration, a journey through the subconscious.
“I don’t make art to impress people. I’m not trying to create a masterpiece. I’m just trying to deal with my shit and survive and be happy,” Bilicko said. “It’s very simple.” He almost sounds like a missionary delivering the gospel of art to the masses. “It saves me. It gives me a respite from all the crazy shit in our world,” he said. A lot of people can benefit from his message. He doesn’t really care about leaving behind a legacy, “It’s more about what I can do for people now, which is to help them understand that art has a truly transformative, therapeutic value to it. If that message continues beyond my current existence, then that’s great,” he added.
Any type of art form is meant to make you think, to make you feel. It’s supposed to make you want to interpret it. Art isn’t utilitarian. Its purpose is to inspire, to transcend, and in transcending, make your mind transcend along with it. In an age when everyone with a phone is a photographer, with photo-editing cloudware an artist and with a blog a writer, it’s difficult to distinguish between those who do it for art’s sake and those who put “art” in “farting around.” Those with a message from those with none. Both kinds are enjoyable to consume; however, as humans we search for meaning in everything that we do. We search for feeling. Deep down, Cory Bilicko is not a painter. He is a storyteller, one whose craft utilizes images and colors, nightmares and beauty, painful realities and distorted lullabies in order to affect the popular narrative of humanity. He is the Sharpie that draws a big smile on a nuclear warhead and a middle finger on the Constitution. He and his art are enemies of the ordinary.
To see Cory Bilicko’s art and his upcoming shows, check out his website: www.corybilicko.com
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, July 13). Il Pittore [Photograph]. Silhouettes, StripSearchLA, Los Angeles.