Discarded Vintage Photos Reinterpreted by Children, Adult Artists in New Gallery Exhibit • Long Beach Post


Long Beach artist Cory Bilicko holds up the picture he chose to reinterpret for his upcoming exhibit, Relative Aperture. Photo by Matt Sun.

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It’s hard not to be inspired when you walk into the tiny-but-mighty Long Beach Depot for Creative Re-Use: bin after neatly-labeled bin of everything from bottle caps to empty pill bottles can be a gold mine for any creative.

For Long Beach artist Cory Bilicko, that inspiration was a box of abandoned or somehow lost photographs, prompting him to ask with sadness why they were’t on some grandmother’s wall somewhere. Purchasing a dozen, he knew they would provide him something, but what that something would be was still up in the air.

It was a handful of weeks later that Bilicko was honored by Greenly Art Space in Signal Hill with a fellowship, which provided the artist the opportunity to curate his own show. The reason he had purchased those dozen photos had become a bit more clear: his curated show, Relative Aperture, would honor those in the photos by having 30 adult artists and children reinterpret the photos in their own way.

“This show is so multifaceted,” Bilicko said, “but throughout the process, I keep thinking about something my mom occasionally told me when I was a kid: ‘If the house is ever on fire, don’t worry about clothes or toys or furniture, because we can buy new ones. If you can do so without risking your life, save the photos. Because those can never be replaced.’”

Almost every adult artist is a Long Beach resident (aside from Juan Garcia and Richard Romero of Los Angeles and Andres Alarcon of Signal Hill). The array of backgrounds, from South Africa to Iran, is as wide as their professions. Bilicko noted that the artists include a children’s book illustrator, a professional middleweight boxer, a former Marine, a photographer who’s taken shots of major punk bands, and a sculptor who spent several years working for the famous artist Jeff Koons.

Each artist also spans the spectrum of experience, with some being established artistic professionals and others being friends of Bilicko who sketch on the side.


“Since I profile a different local artist each week for the Signal Tribune newspaper, where I work as managing editor, I know a lot of artists through that undertaking,” Bilicko said. “I also go to a lot of art openings, art walks and museums, and I’m not shy about meeting artists and asking them questions about their work, their processes and their lives. I tend to buy a lot of art at art walks too. It’s a great way to get original art inexpensively. It irks me that people purchase art at Target when they could get something unique and heartfelt off the street directly from the artist’s hand and have him or her sign it.”

Using his connections to build his artist base, Bilicko has gathered an eclectic group that he tried to match with the variety of his found photos. His collection was expanded by endless perusing of the Long Beach Antique Mall II in Signal Hill—“a veritable treasure trove of old photos”—as well as Retro Row’s vintage and thrift shops.

“I mainly looked for those that were odd or arresting aesthetically, but I also tried hard to find photos of people of color,” Bilicko said. “Unfortunately, I had virtually no luck with this. Just as the group of artists I’ve invited to be in the show is really diverse, I wanted the subjects of the photos to be that multicultural as well.”

The 30 child artists who participated were selected from a group of 60 first and fourth graders who Bilicko had been engaging in visual exercises with.

Relative Aperture ultimately toys with the idea of tangibility in the digital age; Bilicko ponders, when talking about the exhibit, whether or not our digital photos will even exist in 50 years.

“Aside from the obvious tactile quality of them that allows you to feel their rough edges and rips, what some tangible photos have that digital photos don’t are the inscriptions on the backs of them and sometimes even on the fronts of the photos,” Bilicko said. “The picture I chose to use as inspiration for a painting, for example, has ‘1924’ written on the back. That gives me more context from which to work, and it personalizes it because someone had the foresight to write that year on there. So, if it is indeed accurate, then I’m holding a photograph that’s 90 years old, and that’s so exciting for me—the same way I’d be stoked to find a century-old chair in an antique store versus purchasing one from a big-box retailer that I have to assemble myself. When you have these vintage items in your possession, you can’t help but ponder their history and the lives of the other people who touched them before you.”

Relative Aperture will open Saturday, September 6, from 7PM to 10PM at Greenly Art Space, 2698 Junipero Ave., Suite 113, in Signal Hill, and will be exhibited through October 11. The gallery is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11am to 2pm, or by appointment at (562) 533-4020.

Participating artists include Andres Alarcon, Caryn Baumgartner, Cory Bilicko, Dorte Christjansen, Kirk Dominguez, David Early, Mojgan Edalat-McClusky, Cynthia Evans, Alex Garcia, Juan Garcia, Melanie Gottlieb, Susan Hawkins, Rhett Johnson, Brigitte Johnston, Nate Jones, Leslie Lay, Nate Lubben, David McKeag, Lara Meintjes, Leighanna Nierle, Cathy Pavia, Vinny Perez, Sergio Piña, Richard Romero, Joan Sanders, Annie Stromquist, Emily Kiwa Tanaka, Kellie Thomas, Mackenize Woolvett and Danelle Wulc.

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