Artist Spotlight:
Toni Billick
Bart Sullivan, 11-30-2018

Toni Billick photographed at her Cuyahoga Falls home with Sheepy Boo Peep costume pieces and portrait.
Stephen Mulé
In the art world, it’s not uncommon for an artist to enjoy working in one or two different media, whether costumes, photography, drawing, jewelry, etc. For Cuyahoga Falls artist Toni Billick, however, there is no limit.

Best known for her costumes and mixed media, Billick focuses on the best way to achieve her visions. “My first thought is to how to best get the message/concept of the piece of art across to an audience,” she explains. “Ultimately, I am trying to convey the ‘gift’ of being able to see value in what others may overlook.”

Billick got her start as an artist assisting her parents building marionettes and other crafts for local craft shows in Akron, where she learned how to create “puffy” hair from yarn and cardboard, a technique her father had created. Her father’s and grandfather’s jobs in waste removal also gave her a love of using found items. “I view the greater inheritance from both of them to have been given the gift of being able to see beauty and significance in others’ discarded trash,” Billick explains. This approach has impacted the Cuyahoga Falls and Akron arts communities at large, in that artists often do take that which has been discarded, and bring it to life in new ways.

Having learned to work with many different media has allowed her to use this gift to fulfill her artistic vision. As a creative artist, she explains, “In the moment of creating and being in my own mystical world, I get to see my ideas come to fruition and share this with others.” Billick’s favorite subject is “glam,” which is best seen with the high-camp quality, and inclusion of her personality into her work. “I ask myself how can I increase that intensity of the work—to bring it over the top.”

Billick’s most well-known concept is Sheepy Boo Peep, a character whose costume she built and performs in. Sheepy was influenced by the Girls Gone Wild pop culture phenomenon and the taboo interviews with women from the videos. Combining critique of the raunchy culture with the stereotype of these characters, Sheepy dresses in burlesque and teases, but is selective in those she chooses to show more. “Sheepy Boo Peep calls the shots. Sheepy shows the viewers what she wants them to see and not necessarily what they want her to show them.” Other personas in Billick’s repertoire have included the “call girl” known as “Tina Bling Bling,” “faux” drag queen “Sweet Tea McSazzy,” and “Skunk-O-Rella,” the skunk roller derby queen. Billick states that these personas “have no shame and their lack of inhibitions makes it hard to turn away. Those who gaze upon them cannot resist the glow of these fabulous women that are nothing shy of the perfect lady.” Each of these personalities, no matter where they may be presented, are symbols of what people should strive to be, and encourage others to break out of their shell, especially at public events. For example, Sheepy recently assisted with a poetry event at Akron Soul Train, where poets’ inner thoughts could be expressed without risk of personal and public censorship. Helping others publicly read their work like this is important to Billick because performing was very challenging for her at first. After developing each persona and the messages they stood for, however, it gradually became easier.

Billick’s work has been featured in many galleries around the country, including the Hatchway Gallery in Tampa, Florida and the Indiana University Sofa Gallery. Her work is most known however, in the local art community, including Summit Artspace in Akron and Studio 2091 in Cuyahoga Falls. “Art in Pieces,” a figurative show at Studio 2091 earlier this year, featured a video installation piece from Billick, where Sheepy Boo Peep interacted with gallery visitors at the show opening, challenging them to see different perspectives of the pieces at the show.

For more information on Toni Billick and her work, visit www.tonibillick.com.


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