Originally hailing from Tucson, Arizona, Laurie Steelink has been a fixture in the Los Angeles art scene for 20 some odd years. Not only as a painter of large, Sun Ra inspired abstract landscapes, but as the denizen director of Track 16, the alternative gallery space in Santa Monica owned by ALF TV scribe Tom Patchett. However, as the metro train's plans grew to exclude a majority of Bergamont Station's established businesses, Track 16 was forced to reinvent itself and moved to the warehouse district in Culver City. Now a private space for invite only readings and viewings, Steelink missed the processes and the interactions that went into producing the massive gallery shows and crowded live events.
However, when a friend of a friend had a space to rent in the heart of San Pedro, opportunity presented itself. Unable to utilize all of the amazing square footage as her own live-work studio, Steelink now dedicates the first third of the building to the city's burgeoning art community and has returned to what she loves -- putting on shows. At the end of the 110 south and with a couple of right turns, you'll find a white, pristine building in the middle of an otherwise cluttered block of South Pacific Avenue. A demure red golf flag flies on Saturdays and signals Cornelius Projects, named for her father, is open for business.
Steelink, with a penchant for punk rock and alternative points of view, shows what she likes, but the overall concept here is to reflect her immediate surroundings. Pedro has a rich history of artists, writers, musicians and longshoremen: a simmering working-class commonwealth that has been home to the likes of Mike Watt, D. Boon, George Hurley, Woody Risk, Mr, Cartoon and of course, Charles Bukowski, who famously said about the people of Pedro, "They ask you how you're doing, they really want to know."
This sense of community influences Steelink's decisions of who to present, the first being one of San Pedro's punk archivists, Craig Ibarra. Once an employee of legendary SST records, lifelong resident Ibarra has been collecting the history of Pedro in between running his own record label and podcast "Thats So Pedro." Steelink found that Ibarra had a significant body of work, mostly stencils and fanzines that he had never shown.
Next, Cornelius Projects opened a treasure trove of art made by Joe Baiza, a renowned punk and jazz guitarist and founding member of the band Saccharine Trust. He lived in San Pedro for a time in between tours, in the projection booth of a theater. Lots of photographs, one-of-a-kind drawings and flyers done for bands, including the epic October Faction pieces. "And, even though the work is small, explains Steelink, "when we went to meet about the exhibition, I walked into his apartment, and it was jammed to the ceiling with really incredible stuff! I thought then and there that this should be part of the show - so we photographed the interior of his place and I created wallpaper with the images and hung his works on top of it."
Cornelius Projects latest show, "Habit Forming: Makers of Matter" (now through October 4) is perhaps an analog nod to the current concept of the Maker Movement. Unlike the past shows, this an all women affair. "It's the idea of creating something and that action consuming you and taking over," says Steelink. "I thought there must be other people who have that kind of activity, not necessarily a hobby."
Here, Steelink found it appropriate to show her own work, not her usual painting, but an alternative collection of Gods Eyes, things she has been crafting and leaving along the streets of Mar Vista, Santa Monica and Pedro anonymously for years. They sometimes serve as tributes or provide personal solace. The locations choose themselves.
"A very simple thing, but a meaningful thing," Steelink explains. "I was interested in playing with color, and I was interested in putting positive energy into a very simple task. I would actually leave them around on the street during my walks. On garbage cans, on Bus Stops. Good energy for anybody who wanted to pick them up."
Also notable in the show is Eileen Lopez, by day, a cashier at the nearby Point Fermin market. In an exercise to overcome her shyness, Lopez got a camera and began taking snapshots of all her customers. The result is a unique vignette of the human condition, Pedro-style. "I would say that she, out of everyone, is the poster child of this exhibition," says Steelink. "It started a conversation. For her it became a habitual activity. She doesn't count herself as an artist."
Cornelius Projects on a Saturday is a hang out, despite its nondescript exterior. Steelink's space attracts plenty of visitors creating an impromptu salon atmosphere. Local and not-so-local movers and shakers stop by just to chat and reconnect. Artists check in. Musicians play tunes. "Like Venice may have been 40 years ago with not as many poets," Steelink says with a laugh. "It's all very quaint and friendly and community oriented. But with a unique edge. You see new things everyday. The beach is beautiful, the streets are gritty and you can go for walks where there's nobody around." And residents of Pedro like it that way. However, if Bukowski's widow has her way, upon her death, the house on the hill will become a museum for Hank and his archives. Yet another reason for the rest of L.A. County to visit the harbor with great spots like Cornelius Projects taking root. Welcome to San Pedro, now please go home.