The Union: #3 Cory Bilicko


Since we had to postpone our first art show—The Union—we’ve decided to turn this into an opportunity to digitally showcase all the artists who’d submitted to the show. We’ve asked the artists to write about their experiences over the last few weeks, how they’re feeling and coping, or what kind of work has the self-quarantine and social distancing inspired?

Cory Bilicko

Many of my friends and family members in the last few years have heard me groan things like: “I wish I had more free time” and “I’m exhausted from working so much” and “I don’t have enough time for my art!”

I normally (and primarily) support myself as a substitute teacher who works five days a week, which consumes a significant chunk of time and energy. So, when I found out on Friday the 13th that schools would be closed till at least April 20, I was abruptly out of a job for five weeks, if not longer. Luckily for me, the school district pays once a month, so I had a decent-sized check coming at the end of March, so I knew I’d be fine for a while.

Therefore, I decided to have a “forced” vacation. For the past few weeks, I’ve been able to catch up on sleep (I’m actually sleeping until 9:45 sometimes, like I’m 19 again!), cook some great meals and desserts (and have the energy to wash the dishes afterwards), start a vegetable garden, binge-watch hours and hours of true-crime documentaries, catch up on the podcasts I follow, do some hiking (until just recently) and… make art!!

Before I engage in any of those activities each day, however, I check in with family in other states through phone calls and texts to make sure they’re OK, and then I reach out to friends in Long Beach and beyond. (I’ve also gotten my 92-year-old grandmother in Mississippi a Netflix DVD account– yes, they still have that. This way, she’ll be able to watch movies with The Duke and Shirley Temple, as well as cooking programs, when her basic cable proves to be “All coronavirus all the time.” She used to be like the Betty Crocker of the South, almost always in the kitchen when she wasn’t busy making sure her house was immaculate. But she can’t do much of anything since her stroke a few years ago. So, TV is important, unfortunately.)

Since we artists don’t really know when we’ll be able to participate in “brick-and-mortar” gallery shows again, it seems that all calls for artists are on hold. So, I decided to focus my art-making during the quarantine on helping other folks in various ways.

My friend’s husband died a month ago from cancer, so I did a Prismacolor drawing of him with their daughter, based on a photo my friend had shared on social media. Another friend asked me to make some kind of object she could stick in her window for the bear-rainbow hunt the community is doing for kids, so I converted an old Corn Hole game into a freestanding house in ROYGBIV colors with the Three Little Bears waving at the kiddos. My friend Penny is a comic-book fan, and I missed her birthday, which coincided with the start of the quarantine, so I’m making her a collage on wood using strips of comic-book paper that shows scenes depicting females in various ways, as an abstract study of women in comics; the books I have range from 1969 (the year I was born) to more recently, so it reflects views during my lifetime.

I’ve also had the time to further develop the YouTube channel I want to launch, to provide free, easy, quick art lessons using everyday materials. The first episodes are going to focus on projects parents can do with their kids, like: how to easily make castles out of inside-out cereal boxes; how to draw proportionately accurate self-portraits; and how to cleanly cut strips of found paper to form cool collages. 

I do feel somewhat guilty enjoying my free time so much—while people are ill and healthcare workers are being incredible heroes—but I have to remind myself that that free time is also allowing me to be there for others. I actually get to talk to my grandmother every day right now, instead of us playing “Phone Tag” because I miss her calls when I’m at work. Just as I relish the food, the streaming series, the podcasts, the hiking and the art, I savor the long, story-filled, non-rushed conversations with her. This whole situation is helping me see what’s really important– relationships.

When I was selecting three pieces to share for this Art Clout project, I noticed that much of my art inherently embodies what we’re all experiencing during this time: isolation, humanless environments and cabin fever.

Instagram: @artistcorybilicko 

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