The artwork of student Johnny Martinez at Contract Based Education in the West Valley School District has been exhibited prominently in the school. He created 22 pieces over the last year, some of which sparked controversy within the student body, since he isn’t afraid to push the envelope.
He graduated earlier this month. His artwork was still hanging on the walls when students and staff went outside to celebrate the end of the school year with a barbecue on June 14. Between 11:20 and 11:45 a.m., while everyone was having fun, two 16-year-old girls entered the building and destroyed 11 of Martinez’s 22 paintings.
Some of them were shredded into a hundred pieces. Some of them had a tear or two in them. One has completely disappeared.
The two girls were caught on the school’s security cameras. School Resource Officer Ed Cashman said he was waiting for an appraisal of the pieces, which should be done sometime this week. Depending on how much the paintings are worth, the now former students of the school could be charged with misdemeanors or felonies. Cashman said once the value is known he will either make an arrest or issue warrants for their arrest.
“I’ve never dealt with an incident like this involving artwork,” Cashman said. Over the course of the school year, he has dealt with other malicious mischief incidents throughout the district, but this was his first at CBE.
Nothing else at the school was harmed.
Art teacher Jennifer Compau said someone asked her how much the art supplies were worth to help determine the value.
“Nobody’s going to care if somebody went and destroyed a bunch of art supplies,” Compau said. “It’s not that.”
Compau has been shaken by the incident. She has been an active advocate for Martinez, 18, and his art, and has even given him art supplies to continue his craft.
“I’m trying to cope with it,” Martinez said. “Right now, I’ve decided to take all the feelings and emotions I’m going through and transfer them into making more art pieces.”
One of the pieces of art was called “Vampyre,” which caused a bit of controversy when Martinez first placed it on the school’s wall.
The watercolor depicts Adolf Hitler as a blood-sucking vampire with wings, one of which had a swastika painted on it. The beast is flying through the air over burning bodies.
A couple of students took issue with the painting and Principal Cleve Penberthy, Martinez and Compau sat down with the students to discuss the problem.
Compau said she showed the students the painting and asked them to take a deep breath and discuss what bothered them about the painting.
“Both of them (said), ‘We didn’t see anything else on the whole entire paper.’ It was like they went into this tunnel vision. All they saw was the swastika,” she said.
Martinez said when he came up with the idea for the painting he had been watching a marathon on the History Channel about Hitler and the concentration camps where many Jews died. He thought about what he saw on television and decided to express his feelings through his art.
“People call him ‘pure evil,’ ” Martinez said. “I decided, well, let’s make him look evil. Let’s incorporate him into a vampire because vampires are known to kill. They’re known to drain the blood of others. In a way, I think that’s what Hitler did. He drained the blood of millions of people. I sewed his mouth shut so he couldn’t speak. He was a very motivational speaker. He could command thousands of people just through his speeches.”
During the discussions about the painting, the students took a look at the painting as a whole and began to understand Martinez’s point of view. It was a teachable moment for Penberthy who later said it was a learning opportunity for him after 40 years in education.
“If we step back and talk through and try to empathize and compassionately listen to people,” Penberthy said, “then maybe we can find a new way of looking at the world.”
The painting was returned to the exhibit on the walls. It hasn’t been seen since the others were destroyed.
The loss of his work has been a painful blow to Martinez, who said he’s experienced bullying in the past because of how he dresses or for just being different. He’s used his art to work through the emotions of tough times in his life.
“To me, these were my memories. They brought back memories of times I’ve had, either bad or good,” he said. “Now that they are destroyed, I’ve told people that it feels like my memory has been wiped clean. I have no real memory of that even happening anymore. I don’t know what to do about that.”