Thursday, August 7, 2008

Artist Alters Keith Haring Mural As Part Of Legal Dispute


At first glance, you might not realize the Keith Haring mural on Houston Street at Bowery had recently been bombed. “I walk by that spot all the time, and just the other day I noticed the new paint,” commented Jed Silverman, a nearby resident.

Anyone aware of the local graffiti writers or the history of the neighborhood’s art scene might recognize the style and scrawled letters of LA Rock (also known as LAII)—the signature tag of Angel Ortiz, a street artist from the Lower East Side whose flurry of added lines fit right into the piece. This telling detail begs the question: Was this an act of vandalism or a renegade artist’s statement revealed?

For those unfamiliar with the mural in question, it is the recreation of Haring’s Houston Street and Bowery mural, painted by Gotham Scenic and based on extensive photographic documentation of Haring’s original piece. It was unveiled on May 4, what would have been the artist’s 50th birthday.

Ortiz’s involvement with the artist can be traced back to the summer of 1980 when, at 13 years old, he met the 22-year-old Haring in a Lower East Side schoolyard, working on a wall.

Their partnership lasted nearly six years, during which the two often met in Haring’s Broome Street studio, producing hundreds of pieces of art. Their signature styles mingled on canvas, pieces of metal and found urban surfaces, and were hung in joint shows in New York, Tokyo and Europe.

In the years that followed their collaborations, Haring became a cultural icon while Ortiz struggled to navigate the art world on his own. Frustrated, Ortiz contends that the Haring Foundation accrues millions from sales, licensing, and exhibition of Haring pieces, including many of their collaborations, yet largely ignores Ortiz’s role in the timeline of Haring’s work. Nonetheless, Ortiz bears witness to his own past, scrawling his name on the slabs of urban history, for anyone who will take notice. “I saw LA Rock up there,” Silverman remarks, pointing out the familiar tag. “Then I knew it was the real deal.”

Is Ortiz to Haring what Basquiat was to Warhol? History has yet to confirm. “Keith is dead, but LAII is alive and maintaining,” explained Clayton Patterson, who was on the scene with Ortiz to document the event. “So we took over the wall today. It’s a long story…but they hooked it up.”

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