Don Ed Hardy and Laurie Steelink: Evidence of Things Unseen

Track 16 presents Don Ed Hardy and Laurie Steelink in the two-person exhibition, “Evidence of Things Unseen.” Artists Don Ed Hardy and Laurie Steelink first met 30 years ago, both having received their BFAs – twenty years apart – from the San Francisco Art Institute. It was after Steelink attended Rutgers for her MFA that she was introduced to Hardy in New Jersey at the 1992 National Tattoo Convention. Both considered possibilities of tattooing as an extension of their art practices and in 1997 had the chance to explore it further when Steelink curated Hardy’s first Track 16 exhibition Permanent Curios.

Stemming from the influence of the art history that Hardy immersed himself in and infusing styles and movements from all over the world, he is renowned for greatly expanding the art of modern tattooing. In 1967 Hardy finished art school and came to a crossroads. Although accepted to the Yale School of Art to earn an MFA, he ultimately chose to pursue tattooing as he saw great potential for exploration and innovation. It was in 1974 that he opened Realistic Tattoo Studio, the first private, appointment-only space devoted to unique commissions. After 40 years, he retired from tattooing in 2008 to focus on art making. This marks 77-year-old Hardy’s ninth exhibition at Track 16. His most recent drawings are colored pencil on black paper, inspired by processes that harken back to his art training in the late 1950s and 1960s and connecting to his essential iconography, which has acted like amulets through his life of art making. Hardy explains, “This series brings me back to my art school days when I focused on the minute details of landscapes, plant life, and still lifes – rendering them as accurately as possible as etchings and drawings. I’ve tried to do the same with these drawings, while adding elements that reflect what I see in the object after it’s drawn.” Visual patterns arise during careful renderings of cloth rags creating for him a kind of pareidolia where the images anthropomorphize to reveal figures, spirits, and objects. The drawings depict worn rags that have often  weakened into tatters, yet even as their fibers thin and break, energy is transmitted.

“Evidence of Things Unseen” is Steelink’s second exhibit at Track 16. Her work is currently included in the California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art. She says, “I make my work so individual pieces can be combined within an installation to interact with each other.” Imbued in her art of the last decade is her reconnection with her biological family and cultural roots with the Akimel O’otham tribe in central Arizona. Similarly to the tradition of powwow regalia, she created assemblage and installations that are reinventions of older artworks and a lifetime of personal objects that shape the spiritual practice of her art. Materials for the works include acrylic paint, treated found objects, plaster works, fabric and regalia accessories.  Inspired by abstraction and pattern and interpreted through Indigenous history, she explores cosmic and philosophical questions with equal parts artifice and earnestness. In Spirit Painting No. 1 the shredded strips of an old collaborative painting hemmed with bells forms a ghostly figure and is capped with another painting that was long ago transformed into a party hat. Her works – partly in response to Hardy’s drawings – are physical manifestations of an inbetween space – memories, spirits (sometimes tricksters), the seen and unseen  – that are informed by her past and her personal transformation.

Hardy and Steelink’s works align in their repetitive approaches of subject matter: apparitions, ghostly figures, memory, and other slices of their individual taxonomies. Repeated attempts and working with essential forms become meditative as the subject unfolds and the artworks become notational transmitters.