Students design art piece in aftermath of Thousand Oaks tragedies

When she heard about the Borderline shooting, art teacher Julia Bush felt emotional and overwhelmed. She was unsure how to approach the subject of the shooting with her classes on Nov. 8, the day after the tragedy, so she turned to art.

“As a teacher I felt an immense amount of pressure to say something profound and succinct that would somehow fix the happenings of the night prior, or at least mend the broken hearts of my students,” said Bush. “Instead of saying the words that I had prepared, I looked out at my students, who were welling up with tears, and burst into tears myself … The only thing that felt right was getting my emotion out in a large scale. So I invited the students to come get their emotions … out with me.”

The students began to work on a large scale multimedia art piece in the dark room, which is no longer used because the class switched to digital photography. Students utilized different art methods, including “acrylic paint, spray paint, colored pencils, pastels (oil and soft) and paper,” according to Bush.

“It was just kind of like self-expression was all we could think of doing,” said Caden McQueen, an art student who contributed to the project. “It was either that or just sit with all these conflicting, strange emotions …  It’s kind of created a place where anyone can go in and express how they feel in their own way without any restriction or regulation.”

The art piece is a collaboration between Art Media, Intermediate Drawing and AP Studio Art. Bush wants the piece to be a combination of “words and imagery to [allow students to] express their emotions from the Borderline tragedy and the recent fires.”

“It was just such a nice outlet to just be able to throw paint on the walls and write whatever we wanted [and] … express that in a creative way that felt productive more than anything, because it’s a literal display for other people to look at and understand how the students felt, what their perspective was on that and how it affected them and shaped them,” said Katie Reul ‘19, an art student who spent all of that Thursday working on the project. “I was just able to let everything that I felt just sort of flow out and paint it on the walls.”

The piece initially started as a way to help students express themselves after the Borderline shooting, but when students returned to school after the Woolsey and Hill fires, they wanted to include the emotions they felt during the fire. The piece starts with elements from the shooting, then transitions into scenes of fire.

“When you first enter, the walls are just completely covered in paint and it’s all about the shooting,” said Reul. “There’s handprints and everything that represent the twelve victims, and it’s just this whole graffiti-style artwork that’s really cool and just kind of shows that chaotic feeling of anger, stress, sadness, all those different emotions that someone could feel in [this] situation … [They are filling] what’s left of the wall with flames and different [images] relating to the fires because that was also such a huge piece of that course of events.”

After expressing their emotions of anger and sadness throughout the bulk of the project, the students placed a lighter note at the end of the project, focusing on a hopeful future after a traumatic week.

“At the very end of [the hallway], someone … painted this sort of mural with all these different colors and it says, ‘safe haven,’ and it’s just kind of the idea that at the end of all this chaos, there’s this kind of healthy rehabilitation [and] rebuilding of the community,” said Reul. “We’re not just going to stay on the ground because of something like this happening. We’re going to get back up and we’re going to fix things.”

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