Work currently on display in the "Rick Ordonez: Kitty Litter"… (Mid-City Arts )
Mid-City Arts, the street-art gallery attached to a spray paint supply store that brought us last year's big tagger-gone-legit debut show by Chaka, has gone the same route with another artist who grabbed the public's attention before being grabbed by the authorities. The show is "Rick Ordonez: Kitty Litter."
FOR THE RECORD:
A subheadline on an earlier online version of this article erred in calling the show "Kitty Liter."
Ordonez made his name in graffiti circles as Atlas — the tag he used for many years festooning the city with large, ornate graphic illustrations. But early this year his method changed, and he began spraying renditions of cute cartoon kitty cats across the L.A. landscape.
"I saw them and thought it was something completely different," said Medvin "Med" Sobio, manager of Mid-City Arts. "Everybody's out there doing big, bad graffiti things [to show that] 'I'm a big, bad guy,' and here he is, doing cats." Sobio said he was able to track down the elusive Ordonez last spring and began planning a show of his cat phase.
The long arm of the law intervened in July, when investigators with the Sheriff's Transit Services Bureau caught up with Ordonez, 33, and busted him for creating cats on public property, especially on or near the Pasadena Freeway. Charged with six counts of felony vandalism carrying a possible year in prison for each count, he pleaded to one of them in a deal that called for 90 days in the county jail, followed by 300 hours of community service and three years' probation.
Sobio said the show, which runs through Jan. 30, got back on track after Ordonez had served his time, and that Saturday's opening was a sensation comparable to Chaka's. But far from basking in the acclaim, Ordonez chose to remain incognito.
"He was there, but nobody really knew he was there," Sobio said. "He's been doing it 20 years, and still has managed not to be seen. There's no pictures, nothing" — at least outside of police files.
Ordonez is admired in street art circles for shunning the spotlight, a la the British street artist Banksy, Sobio said.
Even as Atlas, Sobio said, "He had a reputation as being one of the most respected graffiti-street artists in Los Angeles, and unlike most street artists, he had no interest in people knowing who he is."
Sobio said he tried to coax Ordonez into doing media interviews to publicize the "Kitty Litter" show, which includes new cat paintings on the gallery walls and cat paintings on canvas, video boxes, Polaroid film boxes and the blade of a handsaw, as well as cat collectibles Ordonez has acquired over the years.
Sobio asked the key question himself: Why cats? The artist's answer, he said, was "I love cats."
As for Chaka (real name: Daniel Ramos), the former L.A. street kid thought to be perhaps the most prolific tagger of them all, he called The Times out of the blue in October and reported that he's back to the routine he had in Bakersfield before Sobio tracked him down to put on his debut show at Mid-City Arts — living in Bakersfield, painting custom signs for local businesses and working through the Stay Focused youth ministry in Bakersfield to give graffiti art classes to youngsters aimed at encouraging them to find legal outlets for spray-painted self-expression.