Collection: Photo-Synthesis by Cory Bilicko and Tony Barerra

Long Beach artists reinterpret each other's works in their preferred mediums


    The subjects and ideas that have influenced artists over time have been vast and varied, from the deepest of personal experience to the wonders of the natural world. 

    However, one source of artistic inspiration that often proves problematic– and even sometimes prompts legal recourse– is when an artist is inspired by the work of another creative individual. When is it inspiration, and when is it outright theft? How much revamping and transformation is necessary for a new work to be considered acceptably derivative but still original?

    Long Beach artists Cory Bilicko and Tony Barrera have been disregarding those concerns recently, as they create pieces inspired by each other's work, in their preferred mediums. Bilicko, who works primarily in paint and mixed media, is re-interpreting Barrera's photographs in his own style, and Barrera is creating photo images inspired by Bilicko's work. Those results will be featured in an exhibit entitled Photo-Synthesis, the first show at the new gallery located at 375 N. Promenade in downtown Long Beach. The show officially opens Friday, Dec. 2 from 6pm to 9pm, with a soft opening the weekend prior.

    The idea for the partnership began in 2018, when Bilicko decided he wanted to collaborate with another artist but had no particular person in mind. He began "putting feelers out," looking for the right individual. 

    "I was very open, in terms of whom I wanted to work with," Bilicko said. "I wasn't yet sure what the nature of the collaboration would be, but I definitely wanted an artist whose work is completely different from my own."

    After about a year of looking, Bilicko saw Barrera's photos on Instagram and was immediately inspired.

"Looking at Tony's work, I was seeing these mysterious, odd, but often sexy images," Bilicko said. "It was an aesthetic that truly spoke to me, and I knew he was the one, as long as he'd agree to participate."

    He reached out to Barrera and introduced himself, asking if the photographer would be interested, and indeed he was. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that they would create new interpretations of one another's work, in their own styles.

    "Sharing similar interests, it made perfect sense," Barrera said. "Not only that, but I couldn't decide which aspect I was more excited for– being able to interpret his work, or seeing my work come to life through Cory. Just such a cool idea."

    The two met up and surveyed each other's works, deciding which ones to re-interpret. 

    "That was an interesting endeavor, in and of itself," Bilicko explained. "We would choose images, then change our minds. But that freedom is an important part of the creative process anyway."

    Both artists began developing new works and soon found a gallery that was interested in hosting the exhibit. However, that was in early 2020. The coronavirus pandemic then put almost everything on hold indefinitely. 

    Nevertheless, they continued on, with Bilicko painting and Barrera setting up photo shoots, through the quarantine and beyond.

    Barrera said that COVID-19 was no hindrance to the artistic process though.

    "I think I am speaking for most people when I say that the pandemic has helped them see life differently, and even grow emotionally," he said. "I have many versions of some pieces, and I think that really reflects the many changes that have happened to us all lately. While we knew that all galleries would be closed for a while, the creative process didn't stop, which created an interesting dilemma, where it almost felt like certain aspects would never feel 'complete.'"

     Bilicko said that, by re-creating each others' images, they're playing with the roles of artist and viewer.

    "In adding, removing or transforming particular elements in the other person's work, we reveal hidden meanings and new ways of seeing our creations," Bilicko said. "But one thing our individual works have in common is vulnerability– we're both willing to expose ourselves, and I think that openness is going to make this a compelling show for those who experience it."


About the Artists

A native of Biloxi, Mississippi, Cory Bilicko is a self-taught artist whose work seeks to find the beauty within the darkness and shed light on those who reside on society's fringes. Primarily working in collage and oil/acrylic paint, he has shown in the Museum of Latin-American Art three times, as well as in galleries in Los Angeles, Hermosa Beach, Palm Springs, Long Beach and Signal Hill. He has painted murals for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, Steelcraft and Made By Millworks. He has created art for and donated pieces to several nonprofits, including the "Forgotten Images" traveling museum of African-American history, WomenShelter of Long Beach, CityHeART, the LGBTQ Center Long Beach and Long Beach Memorial's Project HeArt. He has also curated two local exhibits: the first was a show in which he invited 30 professional artists and 30 children to re-interpret discarded vintage family photos; and the second was "Common Ground: Only in Long Beach," which he curated for the Long Beach Literary Arts Center at the Expo Arts Center, to feature local artists sharing work about their city. He recently served as a juror for the Inspired By... small-works exhibit at the Rod Briggs Gallery for the Long Beach Creative Group.


Through conceptual photography, Tony Barrera uses his experiences with love, depression and questions about life to create colorful yet moody images that connect with viewers on a personal level. Growing up as the queer son to young immigrant parents, Barrera found that Long Beach was the perfect backdrop for a youth trying to discover himself. Quirky communities of outcasts and misfits became like family, and the city was his home. His passion for making images began at a young age, and he quickly gained an interest in photo manipulation, then experimental photographic procedures. He has developed a style that has been featured by major fashion brands, including a couple of images in Italian Vogue. He says that if there was one word to describe his work, it would be “open.” “I want people to look at my work, then feel comfortable enough to want to talk to me about life,” Barrera said. “If you’re looking at my work, you’re probably looking at some intimate thought, idea or part of my life."

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