Angel Carrillo, aka Cruz1, is a beloved Torontonian street artist. His portfolio ranges from intricate tattoos to illustrations to multi-story murals. He is active in the Toronto community, working as an art coordinator and educator with many programs, including the Laser Eagles. He is also a vocal advocate for public art funding and lobbies as a representative voice of street art at many city bylaw discussions.
As we sat down on a rainy morning together, Angel proved to be soft-spoken and captivatingly eloquent about about art, life, passion, and creativity. His passion for drawing began after watching his father draw a dinosaur.
Art gives us a place where we can be ourselves, and we don’t have to hide.
However, when he transitioned into the world of graffiti as a teenager, his new choice of medium was not as well-accepted among his family. The repetitive nature of graffiti, though — painting constantly, honing the same tag over and over and over — forced him to create an easily recognizable and aesthetically cohesive style all his own.
Graffiti is aggressive; you are constantly battling in a visual competition. This competition, though, is what challenges you to be better.
As a way to supplement his income as a painter and tattoo artist, he recently became a creative consultant for corporations such as Campbell’s because, as he says,
Creativity will always surpass technicality.
Eventually, when you know you are the best, you don’t have to prove yourself anymore, and you can begin to give back.
It is with this self-confidence that he can present his work to kids as a challenge for them to step up their creative game. With at-risk youth, he teaches them about art history and the history of graffiti. As a living example of a self-sustaining artist, he presents the wide range of professional doors that “art” offers: architecture, painting, cartooning, furniture design, toy design, fashion design, and on and on and on.
If the kids don’t respect it, they won’t pursue it.
Angel has also been working as a coordinator and tracker with Laser Eagles where he enabling artists with a variety of abilities to create their own art. Each of the Laser Eagles artist’s capabilities are unique – some lack mobility, others speech — and therefore, their methods of creating art are all different. “Trackers” – volunteer artist assistants – spend a great deal of time each session to fully understand the artist’s vision and to execute it exactly the way the artist wishes.
We [the artist and the tracker] work together to integrate our creativity and ideas. But in the end, I am neutral [as a tracker]. The work belongs to them and gives them a way to escape. It is such a special experience to be a part of something greater than yourself.
Ultimately, artists hold the power to change their society by standing firm as models of ethical, respectful, and creative persistence. Angel’s passion reminds us that friendly competition can motivate all of us to press the envelope on issues that we know are important. When your energy is lacking or you feel like no one is paying attention, just remember his motto:
Be what society needs, not what society wants.