LA II, Hearts for Haiti, 2011
Limited edition of 250
Giclee print on archival canvas
16 x 16 framed, $ 250, Courtesy of the artist
* portion of each sale donated to support the relief effort of the American Red Cross in Haiti
by Kofi Forson
LA II was born and raised on the lower East side of New York, Angel Ortiz (Little Angel aka: LA II) was quick to learn the ways of the street artists and graffiti writers during the late 1970’s. Creating a unique signature style that combined both the “tag “ and intricate abstract patterns, LA II was eventually befriended by rising art icon Keith Haring. For a period of about 10 years they traveled around the world and collaborated on hundreds of projects. After Haring passed away LA II continued to develop his style and has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions. LA II has paintings in hundreds of private collections and museums throughout the world, including the Whitney Museum of Art, NY. The Dorian Grey Gallery is currently hosting a solo exhibition of his most recent paintings, including the original work on canvas for Hearts for Haiti. The exhibition runs from March 12th through April 17th.
Kofi Forson: L. A. where were you born?
LA II: I was born and raised in New York City, Bellevue Hospital…The old Bellevue Hospital. I lived in Brooklyn when I was 5 years old by East New York. My mom moved over to Manhattan. I’ve been here ever since. I haven’t left the Lower East side.
Forson: You come from a big family?
LA II: I come from a fairly small family. I got two brothers and one sister. My family is Puerto Rican so they live in Puerto Rico. My mom left the Island to come to New York. She loved it here so we never left. We do go back to visit.
Forson: How early did you take to the streets? How early did you start tagging and doing graffiti?
LA II: I was going to public school P.S. 15 on 4th Street and Avenue D. Back then the kids used to do graffiti on the wall, all over the science books, the history books, on the chairs, every where. Every time I opened up the history book there was somebody’s name. I was like wow I should start writing my name on these books. That’s how I started writing graffiti. It started from inside the classroom.
LA II, Untitled (dark marker), 2010
Marker & enamel spray paint on canvas
30 x 30 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Forson: Going out to do graffiti is different from writing on books. What was it like to go out into the streets to do graffiti?
LA II: My first experience was at The Boys Club. Parents sent their kids there from 3 in the afternoon ‘til 9 at night. I was 10 years old and I would be hanging out with 13 and 14 year old guys. They would go and write on the subways. They would come back and I would see them with ink in their hands holding spray cans and I was like wow why y’all got so inked up. They would say we went up to 14th Street, Brooklyn, 2nd Avenue by the F train. They used to bomb it and they would come back to The Boys Club. They would clean up their hands, wash up and everything and their parents wouldn’t even know. And they were like yo tonight we’re gonna write on the walls do you wanna come. But I was scared. They always said we’ll take care of you. I just started going with them, writing on the walls. I’ve been addicted ever since then.
Forson: What was the influence of early hip hop on your career?
LA II: In 1980 the underground scene was every where. They had Danceteria, Roseland, Fun House. The early rappers were all there, L.L. Cool J. Afrika Bambaataa was at The Roxy. The Rock Steady Crew, they used to break dance. I used to listen to Busy Bee, The Cold Crush and Fat Boys. These were the founders. These are the ones who made it easy for 50 Cent and Fat Joe. All these rappers who don’t give credit to the founders like Big Herk. Fab Five Freddy was a graffiti writer then he got into the art scene. Then he started doing the hip hop scene. Now he does videos for Nas. He does movies. That’s how the hip hop scene started for me with The Rock Steady Crew, Crazy Legs, Frosty Freeze and The Zulu Nation. That’s how it started.
Forson: How and when did you first meet Keith Haring?
LA II: I was 14 years old. My name was all over the city. Keith used to go to Paradise Garage. He used to go to Danceteria. That was like the west side.
I used to write my name all over the west side. He came to Junior High-school 22 on a hot summer day. The principal got tired of the kids doing graffiti in the school. So he announced over the speakers who would like to participate please sign up. Keith heard about it. He came to the school with a ladder. It took him two days to do a mural. So the first day he was there he was asking all the graffiti writers who is L.A. 2. Where could he find him? Where is he from? And all the kids in the neighborhood were like “Yo I know L.A. 2. Who are you?” And he’s like “I’m Keith Haring. My image are the dog and crawling babies.” One of my friends came out and said “Yo there’s a white guy with funny glasses who’s real skinny that does babies and dogs.” And I was like who the hell is having a baby? Who’s the dog?
So I went down there on a hot summer day. I looked at him and said I’m L.A. 2. And he said I can’t believe you’re L.A. 2. So I wrote my name on the wall. It was dark around 6 o’clock. I said do you need help with the ladder. He said yeah so I went to Broome Street. He was living there. I went up to his house. There was a hood of a yellow taxi. He said put your name on it. I wrote my name on it. Then two weeks later he put his name on it. Two weeks later he called me said he will sell it for $1400. He cut it $700/$700. From there I dropped out of school and we started collaborating.
LA II, Untitled ( $), 2010
Spray enamel on canvas
58 x 72 inches, Courtesy of the artist
Forson: What was Keith like as a person?
LA II: He was a kind person, a nice human being. He was gay. He tried to make a move at me. But listen I said I’m not from the west side. I’m from the east side. Once you show me respect I show you respect. We traveled the world. He liked to do art. He liked to dance. And he liked to have sex. These were his main goals.
Forson: As an artist what do you hope to say with your work? What ideas are you expressing?
LA II: Keith has been gone for almost twenty years. I’ve been still doing my art work. I never stopped painting. After Keith died they had a show at The Whitney Museum. They gave us a tour and I said whatever happened to L.A. 2? And the coordinator of the museum said L.A. 2 was a big black guy who died. And I said no I’m L.A. 2. The crowd started going crazy. They started asking me about Keith Haring. The coordinator kept cutting me short. He said this is a business. This is not your show.
You can always look at my website. I’ve been doing stuff with Kenny Scharf, Mark Kostabi. I’m still in the game. I never left the game.
Forson: Where do you get your inspiration from now? How is it different from the 1980’s?
LA II: My inspiration comes from my heart. What’s in my mind and what I’m feeling. Now all these artists are high tech. They do the computer images. They’re not writing on the wall. All the graffiti writers are now doing stickers. I don’t do stickers. The past week I’ve been writing all over the Lower East Side. My name is everywhere. I write on the buses. I want the world to know this is one of the original artists. This is the only Puerto Rican on the Lower East Side who’s been to the Guggenheim, the Whitney.
They’re not giving me my recognition. These museums know the truth. They stole millions and millions of dollars off me. We had a trust fund. We had everything.
Forson: What are your thoughts on the 80’s? Do you think it was one big party or did we accomplish something?
LA II: In the 80’s the A.I.D.S. epidemic came out. People were scared of that. When Rock Hudson came out people who did movies with him were scared. In the 80’s art came out. Andy Warhol was away for a long time. He started hanging out with the Kenny Scharfs, the L.A. 2’s. Andy thought he was back. He thought he was back in the scene. Keith met him. We traveled the world. And we’re still traveling the world. I do good in Europe. Right now there’s a tsunami in Tokyo so a lot of the galleries went underground.
So Tokyo will be calling us again. Come back to Tokyo. Do some more art work.
Forson: How long have you been with Dorian Grey gallery?
LA II: I met them two months ago. There was an opening. Then there was a group show. They invited me into the group show. We sold four paintings. Then I got a one man show coming up on March 12th.
Forson: What’s your influence on the kids on the Lower East Side?
LA II: I give lectures. I talk to principals, churches, pastors. I tell kids in the neighborhood to stop selling drugs. Be more creative. I open up my house to them. They’re all welcomed. We do collabros (collaborations). If I sell collabros for $500 I give them $300 I keep $200. I’m not selfish. I make sure their parents receive the money. I just don’t give them the money.
Forson: How are you going to market yourself now 2011?
LA II: The name has always been there. It hasn’t disappeared. It’s a new decade. They had their decade. This is my decade. This is my time to shine.
LA II and Kofi Forson
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Kofi Forson is a writer, POET and PLAYWRIGHT living in NYC. His current blog is BLACK COCTEAU, a mixture of philosophy and art on modern culture.