We had the good fortune of connecting with Cory Bilicko and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cory, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
In ’94, after college, I moved from New Orleans to California. The lifestyles are so different between the two places, in so many ways, there was a bit of culture shock for me initially. But, eventually, I acclimated to SoCal life, and I feel right at home here now. New Orleans, of course, is a very unique place, and the culture shaped me in various ways, cultivating a true appreciation for superb cooking, rich Southern traditions and unabashed fun.
I think the influence of the Crescent City can be seen in my artwork through my rich colors, sense of wonder and representation of those who live on society’s fringes.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As an artist with misophonia– a condition in which certain everyday noises act as triggers for extreme anxiety– I fully understand the feeling of not belonging in this often chaotic world. Someone’s slurping of soup during lunch or open-mouthed popcorn-chomping in a movie theater can easily throw me into fight-or-flight mode– meaning that common social interactions such as sharing a meal or enjoying a film with a friend can, unfortunately, be sources of major stress rather than relaxation.
After decades of struggling to understand why I, unlike the vast majority of people, cannot just “tune out” these trigger sounds, I finally discovered that others throughout the world have the same condition. However, whereas many of them still suffer from serious anxiety on a daily basis, as they’re exposed to their own trigger noises, I have discovered the ultimate coping mechanism– art making.
At the end of my daily exposure to a noisy, aggressive world, I put on my Bluetooth earbuds, place a canvas onto my easel, and escape into a world over which I have complete dominion. Whether I create a playful portrait of someone’s dog as a commission, a piece to donate to a local nonprofit’s fundraiser or an abstract work of clean, orderly painted lines upon which I meditate to exorcize my auditory frustrations, I’m inventing a parallel world in which I am finally in control– and able to find peace.
Because that feeling of disconnection from society is so accessible to me, I am able to empathize with others who also find it difficult to fit in. Therefore, my art explores the state of life of those who exist on the fringes. In one mixed-media piece, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio abruptly separates the poor who live in favelas from the wealthy; a transgender person is draped in a weatherworn American flag, in a fragile, complicated patriotism; and a rotund woman rides with abandon on the back of a dragonfly, with her identity concealed because there’s still some shame to overcome. These aren’t the types of folks being used to sell lip gloss and sexy luxury cars; they’re the ones who are being body-shamed on social media or denied the opportunity to serve our country despite their willingness to put themselves on the line. The ones on the fringes are my muses.
Although my reason for becoming an artist was deeply personal– to overcome misophonia– my motivation for continuing my artwork is to be a voice for those who haven’t found– or seem to be losing– their own voices.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many great outdoor spaces in the area, so we’d definitely have to take a hike! Then we’d either enjoy lunch from one of the area’s fun food trucks, awesome sushi spots or delectable vegan eateries. Then, of course, we’d have to visit a museum or gallery.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am an artist because of my grandmother (whom my family lovingly calls “Maw-Maw”), who passed away in 2021. When I was a small kid, I would do drawings for family members, and then I’d see those “artworks” later in the trash.
However, whenever I’d create a drawing for Maw-Maw, she’d enthusiastically praise it and say it was “the most beautiful thing” she’d ever seen. Those remarks not only made me feel good; they instilled in me the belief that I truly was an artist.
If it weren’t for Maw-Maw, I don’t think I would have had the self-confidence to pursue my creative endeavors and possibly would not have been accepted into gallery and museum exhibits.