Faded will be published in the upcoming issue of:
You can purchase a printed or PDF copy by clicking on the following link:
Faded will be published in the upcoming issue of:
You can purchase a printed or PDF copy by clicking on the following link:
I’m glad to announce that “Letter To An Unknown Writer” has been published in the Winter issue of Authorship.
Please look for the new Winter issue next week on their website www.nationalwriters.com (It will be on the ‘Videos’ link).
A phrase that I have heard more than a few times is that “Highland Park is the Portland of LA.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If these cities were friends, Highland Park would be the girl who had recently gotten her first kiss from a boy and Portland the girl who was already giving blowjobs. Portland has the infrastructure of a small city that’s ready to go through urban puberty, waiting for its budding population and housing to grow with anticipation. On the other hand, Highland Park is still potty training, cleaning up gang related shit, making its longtime residents crawl out of it in all fours and being babysat by a man who is out of touch with his constituents and the area he is supposed to be tending to.
Both cities bear a striking resemblance. They both go overboard in the amount of coffee made readily available to its citizens. For casual drinkers, this can pose a dilemma. But for coffee lovers, this is a big fucking deal. It’s coffee overload. It’s like that one scene in 1983’s “Scarface” in which Al Pacino’s Tony Montana dips his face into a mountain of cocaine on his desk. These establishments are no longer called “coffee shops,” they prefer to be called “coffee roasters.” As a consumer, you’re forced to choose between them like a maiden choosing a suitor. You’ve got your dark, tall and strong or light, short and sweet.
Similar to Portland, Highland Park is going through a dramatic makeover. Buildings–residential and commercial–are being erected all across the Northeast LA neighborhood, raising rents, displacing people of all colors and economic classes; including the disappearing middle class. It is this group that is simultaneously summoning and suffering the effects of gentrification. It seems as though this buzzword only poses a problem when it affects the middle class, not the working immigrant class. The middle class enjoys the quaintness of the boho chic coffee shops and restaurants, but it despises the drug paraphernalia adorning the sidewalks.
Highland Park wants to be more than it can be and pretends to be more than it should. It prides itself in its decrepitude and its lack of variety and quality. Portland is what Highland Park wants to be when it grows up. They both have that underlying punk-rock-blue-collar-DIY mentality, but Portland balances its rough exterior with its smooth cohesiveness. A Portland cashier will provide excellent service with a middle finger raised at you behind her back. In Highland Park, you’ll just get the middle finger in your face as you wait for someone to even acknowledge you.
A recent Vogue article painted Highland Park as having pristine streets, friendly people and a blemish-free history. It was a letter written by someone who had just fallen in love with the subject. The author made sweeping generalizations that swept the town’s social deficiencies under the rug and threw the older businesses and residents under the bus. An LA-based news website, LAist.com, quickly fired back with a spiteful and sassy article that deconstructed the aforementioned one, point by point. Instead of using the runway and limelight to bring up real issues like rampant homelessness and muggings, it was an appeal to “keep Highland Park weird.” Both articles–in their positivity and negativity–peddled a pastoral narrative where the residents of Highland Park were satisfied with what little they had.
Portlanders have plenty of unifying agents like a shared history, sports teams, national parks and a zoo. People from all over the country and the world are welcomed, more or less, by the residents. The newcomers enthusiastically adopt the practices and customs of the locals. In Highland Park, the opposite is true. People that move there don’t want anything to do with the people that were already there. The locals share that same disdain. Each party believes that the other is out to ruin whatever they have going on. There is no “Highland Park Pride,” gay or straight. For the most part, the locals give off a feeling of mistrust and the newcomers give them the silent treatment.
New residents resent the long-time residents for having neglected the neighborhood, plummeting it into an uncontrollable downward spiral of crime and neglect. This has empowered incompetent elected officials to coast through their terms without lifting a finger to improve conditions and are guaranteed reelection. The locals resent the new residents for viewing their long-time homes as “fixer-uppers” and changing all of the old businesses to new ones that they don’t feel welcomed to.
What it comes down to is the citizens of each city. Those from Portland run their city towards something better. Their counterparts in Highland Park have run it to the ground. The sex that Portland citizens have with their city is consensual. It is lovemaking on a bed softly lit by candlelight, to the tune of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” On the other hand, Highland Park gets fucked by its citizens in a dark alley, against a rusty chain link fence, lit by the piercing headlights of an old Chevy truck, to the tune of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails.
All I can hope for Highland Park is that its citizens start to see one another a bit more like neighbors and less like enemies. I hope that in banding together, they elect officials who actually support their hopes for a better community. One that gives a restless, disenfranchised brown and black youth a place to gather at that isn’t defaced by graffiti. As well as provide a burgeoning white and Asian infancy with open-air spaces for them to play in. I hope that its streets get cleaner and its buses continue to take hard-working Americans of all ethnicities to work. My ultimate hope is that the residents of Highland Park work and fight towards building a place deserving of them.
But until that day, Highland Park residents will have to swallow the placebo of blissful ignorance, and continue to allow old couches to be dumped on their sidewalks and give their change and leftovers to the junkies sleeping on them. This medicine has managed to quell the pangs of a community forging and birthing its identity.
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Standing Underneath Two Sisters [Drawing]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.
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 while giving the middle finger to the establishment. 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.
A fiery yellow and orange light nestled itself gently up against a misty rose blue sky around 4:37 a.m. The sunrise awoke me in the same manner that an eager 4-year-old who has been up all night, too excited to sleep, wakes her parents. This capricious light lit my way and led me to a deserted bus stop. My main goal that day was to explore Downtown Vancouver. Little by little, people began to gather around the stop, forming a small, then larger crowd. A woman with a broom swept the trash by people’s feet, not to draw it into the trash can, rather to draw attention to herself. To her deplorable state.
“Excuse me,” she yelled at a young woman thumbing her phone. Her tone was accompanied by a level of annoyance that comes from not being appreciated. As she jumped out of the way, a muffled “thank you” drooped out of the downward facing sweeper. She continued to sweep hunched over with her tiny broom until she arrived at the ledge of the sidewalk, between the people and the road.
“Hello! Hello, people waiting for the bus,” she proclaimed, using the cleaning instrument as a baton, “my name is Alana and I sweep the streets every day.” She swapped the broom from her right hand to her left and outstretched it to the crowd. “Would you like to make a donation today?” Most people ignored her vulnerability, her cry for help. They had all heard that one before. Like a true artist, she kept going even as her performance fell onto deaf ears. Tough crowd.
After not having any luck with mass appeal, Alana tried a more personalized approach. She went up to a woman and asked her for a “humble donation.” The woman was talking to a man and didn’t seem to appreciate Alana’s humble interruption.
“Well, you’re humble psychologically, but you’re a fucking bitch,” the woman yelled as Alana walked away from her.
“Thank you,” Alana said as she wove through the crowd of people, continuing to ask for donations.
“Thank you? Thank yourself, fucking bitch.” At first sight, I would’ve judged things all wrong. Based on each woman’s physical appearance–Alana disheveled and the other dressed in a suit–I would’ve painted Alana as completely deranged and the other woman as completely sane. Truly I tell you, as my eyes and ears bore witness, the opposite was true. Even though Alana was missing a couple of teeth, it was the other woman that was missing a couple of marbles. However, these are necessary illusions. Necessary to keep up the charade, the bizarre parade that we call “normal.”
Later that day, after having had a nice meal, I walked out of the restaurant and a young man, who looked like he’d been dragged all across town and thrashed by the pleasures of drug use, looked at me indignantly.
“What is your wetback ass lookin’ at?” he squawked. His question, although begging for an answer, seemed to be rhetorical. Well, what was my “wetback ass” looking at, indeed? I was looking at a broken man with a broken heart trying to piece his life back together by smoking pieces of meth, trying to find a method in his madness. That’s what my wetback ass was looking at. I guess that would’ve been too long of an answer to a drive-by question. The irony of it all was that he himself was Hispanic. It has been my experience that people of our own race make the best racists. Call it introspective loathing.
One of my favorite parts of traveling to different cities is checking out the local public transit. It’s an arena ripe for people watching. If extraterrestrial beings ever wanted to see true human nature, their search would only be a half hour bus ride away. On the bus, in Vancouver as in LA, people find it uncomfortable making eye or physical contact with other strangers of any kind; accidentally or deliberately. The ripe scent of armpit sweat and sweaty ass are forces that even a decent deodorant and soap cannot combat. However, I really do like people. I like looking at them. At their quirks. At the things that they themselves would find repulsive while looking in a mirror. Most look away, but I want to walk through the looking glass. I like to take a big whiff of whatever olfactory cocktail the bus has shaken for me. Allow it to stir in my lungs. It’s the scent of life. A scene from the everyday. A sense of comfort in knowing that everything around me that is happening will bring me no harm. The sound of peace. I am surrounded by my kind. My people. It’s about feeling the good in the good people of Canada. Of the world.
Someone once told me that Portland is a combination of San Francisco and Seattle. Having been to San Francisco twice before and spent a few days in Portland, my excitement to experience Seattle came as no surprise. It was like meeting someone’s mom and younger sister and imagining how that person would look like based on how attractive those two people were. On the long four-hour train ride there, I started to get a jittery feeling in my stomach the closer we got to the downtown station. I could hardly wait to get there and see it.
Visiting other cities—in the US or elsewhere—brings up the question of “Could I live here if the opportunity presented itself?” I’ve discovered that a city, while you’re vacationing there, behaves similar to a person on a really good first date. Seattle, Washington was no different. Everything you say is funny, every quirk is adorable and nothing about them can be considered negative. Even their curt assholeness is seen as assertive, as charming. Seeing another city? That’s totally fine with Seattle, because it will do things that the city you’ve got at home will not. Seattle will be a slut for you. You know your home city too well. There are no surprises, no fireworks.
Seattle didn’t care to know why I was considering leaving LA, and I really wasn’t concerned with its past either, or its crime and homelessness. The grime on and under its streets or the time I’ll have to waste on its trafficked highways and crowded public transit. Seattle and I wanted to start something fresh.
I booked a small room for four days in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Each day was an opportunity to get to know this place a little better, like going on back-to-back dates. I wanted to spend all day and night getting to know Seattle’s streets and shops and explore its seductive and supple body of water. To take in its beautiful Sound. There was this intense creative energy in the air. One that made me feel at home.
Like most annoying qualities in a person, most are not apparent at first, even though they have always been there, in plain sight. Maybe we choose to ignore them, or the person we like does a great job at suppressing them. In any case, when these qualities do reveal their ugly heads, they do so with an unperceptive slowness. The things that were once cute about them soon become unbearable. Initially, I really enjoyed having mini conversations with coffee-shop employees. They were courteous and took the time to shoot the shit. But after a few days, it started to become a chore, an obligation. Sometimes, I just wanted to order coffee, pay for it and leave. That’s it. Their shit-shooting also started to distract me. Their deconstruction of how faithful the adaptation of Captain America from its comic-book source material to the cinema screen was piercing through my every thought.
“You just have a bunch of ripped dudes running around,” a bearded beanie-wearing barista ranted, “fighting each other and they pay no attention to what the characters really stand for.” The other barista and customers at the counter agreed, anxiously awaiting their turn to get on a soapbox of their own.
This sense of urgency coursing through me is probably something that rubbed off on me from LA. It’s a quality that Seattleites don’t really appreciate and one that I myself hate in other people. It seemed strange to think that in just a matter of days I could already fantasize about living here. I’m only human. Besides, LA and I haven’t made anything official. I haven’t bought a home there yet. She’s making it really difficult to do so. I can barely stay in my apartment, with a few measly things to call my own. In Seattle, I felt as if I could live a better life.
It was love at first sight and as such, it was over in the blink of an eye. As I folded the shirtsleeves on which my heart was worn, I could see myself loving my life and work in Seattle. The new habits I would form there, the new paths I would walk and the stuff I would get used to. LA still has my home, my heart. I couldn’t just leave her. There’s too much baggage. I missed her. Her smoggy breath, urinous perfume, sultry weather and asphalt forests. I will miss Seattle like one misses a past lover, continuing to fantasize about it while still inside of LA. However, even after I visit other cities in distant lands and relocate there permanently, I will always go to California with an aching in my heart.
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Tazza di Caffè [Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.
Our Father which art in heaven…
My dad hated when my siblings and I misbehaved in church; the House of God as he would refer to it in order to make our actions carry on a more sinful weight. In that stuffy environment full of boring people trying to stay awake, all I wanted to do was anything to distract myself from the holy minutiae bleating out of the preacher’s mouth onto the flock.
My dad would threaten us, “Just wait ’til we get out of here.” Then, once out, he would ask, “Do you know why I’m hitting you?” I always did, nodding up and down with watery red eyes. I preferred my dad’s style of corporal punishment as my mom’s went overboard to borderline abuse. I didn’t enjoy it, but I appreciated it as this was one of the few times that he showed any real interest or concern for me. I liked that.
Hallowed be thy name…
Aside from the occasional corrective beatings he’d bestow upon me, the most detrimental and damning action his hands ever inflicted on me was when he wrote in a name identical to his in the box “Name of Child” on my birth certificate.
His name thrusted upon me his criminality and the shame that accompanied it. My family automatically fashioned a path for me in their minds, one similar to his, one paved with drugs, lies and perdition. “He’ll probably grow up to be just like him.”
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…
My dad wasn’t a mainstay at our household. If my childhood were a sitcom, he would’ve been a recurring character. However, when he was home, he felt like he was the star of the show, a king and demanded that my mother, my siblings and I do as we were told. Do whatever made him happy.
Even though he was unemployed and unemployable, he felt that any money that entered the house–whether through his wife’s paycheck or his kids’ allowance or birthday money–was his to claim. He was the husband after all. It was his divine right. He would smack my mom and us around if we went against this holy decree. He slapped my sister square in the face when she told him to “get a damn job.” According to him, his job was to take care of us, but the way we saw it, the only person we needed protection from was him.
Give us this day our daily bread…
The money that he did manage to weasel out of my mom was squandered on things that were not bread. He didn’t fit the role of provider very well. The food that stocked our pantry and refrigerator came from what little money my mom made. We often went hungry for whole days. That never seem to bother my dad. I remember telling him that my siblings and I hadn’t eaten all day and that we were wondering if he could pick up a pizza for us. He asked if my mom had given us any money to pay for it. I said no. He told me not to worry, that he would find a way to buy it. He left the house in a hurry. I couldn’t help but to worry.
One hour turned into two and then three and before I knew it, it got late. My siblings and I fell asleep with empty stomachs that night. Then, around 1:00 a.m., he came in empty-handed and told us that he had forgotten to buy the pizza and that he would buy us one later that day. I don’t know if it was the fasting or the fact that he had made too many false promises before, but I was beginning to see everything with more clarity. I didn’t believe him anymore.
Whenever my siblings and I would ask him for anything, he would scoff and shame us by saying “At your age I was already finding my own food and cooking it.” My mom hated my dad’s methods and when we would tell her about what he said she’d say, “That’s because your dad and his brothers were raised like animals.” He wanted us to fish without having taught us to do so. When he himself wasn’t.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…
Most of his money came either from the sale of controlled substances, primarily Schedules I and II, or from selling our family’s things; like my rare can collection, letting his friends “borrow” my social security card or asking me to pee in a cup for his buddy. He’d entice me to give him these things by saying “Don’t be stupid, don’t you know that I can give you a lot of money?” Whenever I would ask him to pay me the money that he had promised, he would simply laugh and say “I don’t owe you anything. You owe me your life.” I don’t think anything that came out of his mouth irked me more than that simple truth. “How much is that worth?” I asked, “I want to pay you every single penny, so that you can never say that again.” He laughed. “You can’t pay me back for that. I’m your father.” Scratch that. The latter fact was what truly pissed me the fuck off. He enjoyed having that unrequitable debt over me. It was the one thing he couldn’t sell. Or at least hadn’t tried to yet. His last claim to any shred of dignity.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…
One would assume that a person who deals in illegal drugs would have considerable to a fair amount of monies. But not in the case of my dad. He was bad with finances and would often take other forms of payment, such as clothing, CDs, video games and even eye wear. Sometimes right off of the person’s face.
One of his favorite forms of requisition was sending us to school with strange men. His loyal customers. He was mostly carless, so in a sense, he was killing two birds with one stone: making sure his kids went to school and shielding them from seeing him and his buddies get high on his own shit.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
In the end, my dad was the perfect one for me. Because of his bad example, he inadvertently swayed me away from ever wanting to be like him. Had he not been the irresponsible, unreliable and perilous presence in my family, I may have not realized the importance of being a good person.
Through his absence, he taught me the importance of being there for people. And through his lack of affection, that of expressing your love for those you care about.
I thank him for being my father because he taught me what it truly means to be a good parent.
Father and son on bicycle [Photograph]. (1938). Shades of L.A: Jewish Community , Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.