Angel “LA II” Ortiz talks to Lee Sharrock for FAD Magazine.

Legendary New York Urban Artist Angel ‘LA II’ Ortiz has curated ‘The Great Collaborator’, an exhibition at D’Stassi Art in London. ‘The Great Colla2borator’ opened on 10th May and features collaborations with STIK, Shepard “Obey” Fairey, Mr Doodle, Mark Kostabi, and two rare original artworks by LA2 with the late Richard “Shadowman” Hambleton before his death in 2017. 

Giants of Urban art come together for the first and only time in ‘The Great Colla2borator’, a unique opportunity to see original collaborative artworks created by LA II with legendary  American urban artists Obey and Mark Kostabi, iconic British street artists Stik and Mr Doodle, and the ‘Godfather of Graffiti’ Richard Hambleton.   

The exhibition at D’Stassi spotlights Angel’s significant contributions to the art world and his influence on other major artists. Angel met the late, great Pop artist Keith Haring in New York in 1980 when Angel was only 12 years old and Keith was 23. Haring spotted Angel’s tag all over the lower east side of Manhattan and on the trains and wanted to meet Angel to see if they could collaborate together. Haring & LA2 had a mutual friend – Richard “SOE” Ortiz – who made the introduction, and the rest is art history. The pair quickly formed a strong friendship and artistic partnership, going on to collaborate for a decade on more than 100 paintings, sculptures, and other found objects. 

Lee Sharrock spoke to Angel Ortiz at D’Stassi Art on the day of his exhibition opening.

Angel Ortiz & Stik at Angel ‘LA II’ Ortiz: ‘The Great Collaborator’ D’STASSI ART

Lee Sharrock: How did you start working with D’Stassi and where did the exhibition concept of “The Great Colla2borator” come from? 

Angel Ortiz: We recognised from the beginning that if we’re gonna do a show of collaborations, that it can’t be a standard run of the mill show. If I’m going to be collaborating with an American artist in London, that artist better be ‘our Banksy’, and Shepard Fairey is in my opinion the ‘American Banksy’. Some believe he helped get the first African-American US President elected, with the Obama “Hope” campaign image. Also, I’m in the unique position of being the only artist to have collaborated with Richard Hambleton. Even though Hambleton was Canadian, he made a huge impact on the street art scene in New York and was known as the ‘Godfather of Graffiti’. Throughout his life, he ran in a circle with Basquiat and Warhol and could have painted with anyone, but he chose to paint with me. I’m the only artist that I am aware of who collaborated with Richard.

How did Stik come into the equation? 

My friend (now manager) met Stik in 2012 in Shoreditch, London and he introduced him to me after he did his first solo show in New York City at Dorian Grey gallery, which sold out every piece of artwork opening night. I remember it was a freezing NYC winter night and Stik was so nice and generous and was outside handing out hot beverages to people in the long queue of the gallery.  We became instant friends and started to collaborate a few years later. I saw many similarities with Stik’s ability to make his figures come to life just like Keith was able to do.  It is uncanny how similar Stik and Keith look like each other.    

I can see that. Yes there’s a simplicity and innocence to Stik’s art that does have echoes of Haring’s.

I find beauty and grace in Stik’s art. I truly appreciate his ability to draw 6 lines and 2 dots and have those figures convey such emotion in their composition.  Once you mix his Stik people and add my calligraffiti, we create magic together. So, it was very important for me to have him in the London exhibition at D’Stassi. 

Mr Doodle & Stik at Angel ‘LA II’ Ortiz: ‘The Great Collaborator’ D’STASSI ART

Mr Doodle and I met in 2023 and we collaborated on several works for an exhibition in NYC and we also painted a large mural on the outside of the Modernhaus Hotel in Soho. Then we have Mark Kostabi. Mark has had a very long and successful career in the art world.  In the 80s Kostabi was everywhere…he was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and 60 minutes. He was a contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.   

You started out in the 80s when you were collaborating with street art icons such as Keith Haring. How do you think the scene has changed, and how do the emerging artists compare to the OGs like Haring and Basquiat?

I think the ‘Barely Legal’ show in California in 2006, with Banksy and the Painted Elephant, which Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt went to was a game changer for the Urban Art scene.  Galleries such as Pace releasing estate prints by Jean-Michel Basquiat was also important, because it made his art more accessible to people. Keith often said “Money is the opposite of Magic – Art is magic”. Haring, Warhol and Basquiat would go to the clubs in NYC like The Paradise Garage, Area and Studio 54.

How do you feel about the shift of urban art from the street where it was edgy and often illegal, to galleries and auction houses where it maybe loses some of the sense of danger? 

Street art is still illegal in New York. We have no designated areas to tag like here in the UK.  The city and authorities apply heavy penalties to the street artists based on the value of the building.

Do you think it’s a positive thing for street artists who started out years ago who are now accepted and exhibited by galleries? 

I don’t dwell on the financial side of the art world. I have been creating magic for the past 45 years out of love, not to make money.  Picasso once said “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. I need to paint every day. It’s like eating, drinking and breathing for me!

Are there any street art scenes around the world that you find interesting at the moment? 

I really like the twins from Brazil Os Gemeos, Vhils from Portugal and how 10Foot and Tox have plastered their tags all over London.  

Angel ‘LA II’ Ortiz: ‘The Great Collaborator’ – 24th May 2024, D’STASSI ART

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