Keith Haring's Silent Partner

Graffiti Artist Angel Ortiz Charges the Haring Foundation Has Shut Him Out of Money and Acclaim

Indeed. Beginning in the late 1990s the Pop Shop, on Lafayette Street, sold T-shirts and umbrellas bearing designs by Ortiz, which were identified and marketed as created by Haring. Ortiz discovered this by accident after wandering into the store. After Ortiz complained, the foundation paid Ortiz a dollar for each of 1800 T-shirts sold for between $15 and $25. The shop also paid him $182 for umbrella sales totaling $1824.

It is not only the potential loss of money, but the lack of acknowledgment that pains Ortiz. He thought of Haring not merely as a business partner, but as a trusted friend and supporter who plucked him from obscurity, encouraged him to create art, and invited him to share in an adventure. The fact that the Haring Foundation appears to prefer keeping him at arm's length puzzles Ortiz and makes him miss all the more the reassuring presence of his former mentor.

"The foundation should've taken care of me, but they didn't," he said. "They show my pieces in museums but never invite me. They give money to charity but they ignore their own."

Angel Ortiz with his work at the patterson gallery: "I still think about all the good times with Keith."
photo: Robin Holland
Angel Ortiz with his work at the patterson gallery: "I still think about all the good times with Keith."

Others agree. The artist Richard Hambleton, who during the 1980s toured through Europe with Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat, said that the role Ortiz played in Haring's development deserves recognition. "Keith learned to fill in blank spaces on the canvas from LA II and that took his art to a new level," Hambleton said. "The way LA has been treated by the foundation since Keith died is really shameful."

Outside the Patterson Gallery it was raining. Ortiz picked up a Pop Shop umbrella featuring his work and a label bearing Haring's name, then walked to a basement shop selling lamp shades at 325 Broome Street. It was the same spot where he had worked with Haring. Inside, drawings made by Haring, Ortiz, and others were still faintly visible on the walls, in some cases bleeding through a thin coat of primer.

"I still think about all the good times with Keith," Ortiz said before heading back out into the rain. "If he were alive today, he wouldn't forget about me."

At the end of June, the opening for Ortiz's month-long show took place. Dozens of people stood in the gallery, sipping beer and gazing at the 20-odd pieces on display, which ranged in price from $75 to $5500. Included among them were several collaborations between Ortiz and a Lower East Side artist, Marco, whose simple, pop-art line drawings elicited comparisons to Haring.

As salsa music blared from a boombox, members of the Rock Steady Crew and of TNS, a legendary Lower East Side graffiti crew, congratulated Ortiz. Ortiz used a marker to draw his tag on a piece of metal, then smiled.

"It feels real good to be here tonight," he said. "It feels like I'm starting all over again."

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