“LA II,” main tag (others include “TNS” and “LA Rock”) and signature of artist Angel Ortiz, went from being an ubiquitous feature of urban art to the mark of highly collectable pieces. The work of Ortiz, pioneer of graffiti art, is a product and multi-layered signifier of 1980s street culture and in particular that of New York’s Lower East Side. The artwork today attests to the ever-changing relationship between people, art, and the urban environment, constantly evolving vis à vis Ortiz’ contemporary creations. His career was launched in 1980 when then unknown artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) discovered and admired Ortiz’ murals in downtown New York, which Haring found unique in their evocation of Asian calligraphy. Soon thereafter, Haring and Ortiz painted together on a yellow metal panel that had once been part of a taxi, thus embarking on an important twentieth-century artistic collaboration. The two artists met regularly at Haring’s Broome Street studio, painting and drawing on both canvas and urban detritus such as statues, cans, and other pieces of metal. Haring’s and Ortiz’ artistic practice was characterized by close collaboration on single works of art. Whether covering walls, subway cars, or canvas, their work is about surface and highlights art’s transformative role. Sharing a rapid and spontaneous approach, Haring’s and Ortiz’ individual techniques also corresponded in terms of scale, spacing, and consistency of line. Ortiz’s calligraphic, interlocking lines energized and filled out negative space between Haring’s cleanly drawn shapes. Their artwork brought up questions of authorship, spatial practice, and collective identity. Jon Howell’s pieces, Untitled (BTW) and Untitled (Take No Shit) (Item #s 1362 and 1252) illustrate Ortiz’ penchant for interwoven lines and repeated motifs and his characteristic mixture of tags and abstract, contemporary, and ancient symbols. Ortiz left school at the age of 16 to produce art at which point he and Haring spent a few years in close collaboration, and to a lesser extent from about 1985 to 1989 before Haring’s death. This partnership yielded several exhibitions, beginning in 1982 at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, and reaching a pinnacle in 1983 and 1984 with projects in New York, Pittsburgh, London, Tokyo, and Milan. Recently, in 2008 Ortiz revived the pair’s artistic dialogue and contributed to a recreation of a mural by Haring at Houston and Bowery streets (the mural was re-created by a team of artists using photographic documentation by Tseng Kwong Chi in April 2008 for Haring’s anniversary tribute). Ortiz added thickets of black lines and the words “LA II,” “Clayton,” and “LES” in the spaces between Haring’s green and black motifs. In addition to many exhibitions displaying the work of both Haring and Ortiz, including those at the Future Primeval Queens Museum (1990), the Tampa Museum of Art (1990), New York’s Follin Gallery (2001), and Putignano Arte, NOCI in Bari (2003), Ortiz has participated in solo and group exhibitions from 2001 in Los Angeles, New York, and Italy. His work sold at auction at Phillips de Pury in 2008.
Niko Koppel, “Little Angel Was Here: A Keith Haring Collaborator Makes His Mark,” The New York Times, Art & Design, 5 August 2008.
Erica Orden, “Haring’s ‘Silent Partner’ Speaks,” New York Sun, 1 August 2008.