Artist Loring Cornish, whose glass and found-object mosaics have beautified homes on Eutaw Street, a former police outpost near Penn Station and his studio in Fells Point, is leaving Baltimore for Los Angeles, where he hopes to realize his dream of an acting career.
“I just didn’t want to waste any more time, not pursuing what I really wanted to do,” Cornish said Wednesday, back in Baltimore for a brief visit before returning to L.A. and the space he’s renting in the city’s Silver Lake neighborhood. “I think I’ve reached the pinnacle I could reach in Fells Point.”
Besides acting, Cornish says he hopes to write his memoirs once he’s settled on the West Coast.
Should be quite the book.
A West Baltimore native who grew up, he says, with Druid Hill Park as his backyard, Cornish has become known around town for his colorful creations. Self-taught as an artist, he’s had exhibitions at the Johns Hopkins University’s Evergreen House, Morgan State University, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture and the American Visionary Art Museum.
One of his best-known works can still be seen at the corner of Charles and Lanvale streets, just down from the Charles Theatre. Two years ago, in the months following the death of Freddie Gray, he encased an old police substation there in pieces of colored glass, emblazoning it with messages of hope and repeated depictions of the word “please.”
He called the project “Change for the Better” and said it was meant to reflect a city in shambles. “I wanted it to be hopeful and uplifting about the situation, but yet still strong about the message that police brutality is wrong,” Cornish told Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea K. McDaniels. In two earlier works, on a pair of West Baltimore houses, Cornish had struck an angrier tone; a sign on one likened police brutality to legal lynching and featured black dolls hanging from trees.
His move to California — he plans to leave for good right after Christmas, Cornish says — will mark the second time he’s relocated west. He lived in L.A. for about 10 years in the 1990s, creating art in the Silver Lake house he was renting and working as a shoe repairman and occasional actor (and living as Van Freeman, the name he received after being adopted by his stepfather; Loring Cornish, he says, is his birth name).
Cornish returned to Baltimore in 2001. But thing is, he apparently didn’t tell everyone (including his landlord) that he was heading east, and the house full of art he left behind made for a tantalizing mystery. The Los Angeles Times ran an article about this artist who appeared to just up and vanish, and about the woman who moved into the house determined to save the artwork he left behind. When he was tracked back to his parents’ home in Baltimore, after friends phoned with news of what was going on in L.A., the Times article was headlined, “‘Missing’ Artist Alive and Well in Maryland.”
“It really makes a guy feel good,” Cornish says, referring to the interest in his artwork, on both coasts. But he’s always wanted to become a full-time actor, he says, and realizing that dream will be realized a lot easier in Los Angeles than in Baltimore.
“I have enough money to just go out there and focus on my acting and my writing,” he says. "I would be doing the same thing that I would be doing here in Baltimore.”
He's been both surprised and heartened, Cornish says, by the response since word got out here in Baltimore that he was L.A.-bound. People keep stopping by his Thames Street gallery, he says, to say how much they’ve liked his work and wish him well.
“I never realized the impact my work had on the community at large, or the community right here in town — people that you didn’t think even noticed you,” he says. “I have a lot of fans.”