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Artist blends oil, tobacco to deliver a powerful message


Samantha Rezzetti, right, an 11th-grade art student at Kingman Academy High School, studies the artwork of Albert Ortiz as the painter explains how he came up with ideas for his anti-smoking campaign.

KINGMAN - A woman peacefully sleeping in bed as a cigarette dangling from her fingers burns into the sheet and catches fire.

A car filling up with smoke from a father's cigarette as his wife and children cover their noses and fan the white wisps away.

A solitary hand picking up empty cigarette packs and crumpled butts tossed into the gutter.

The vivid oil paintings displayed Thursday at Kingman Academy High School left no room for mistake about their powerful message.

The paintings are the work of Albert Ortiz, a Chandler-based artist taking his message to Arizona schools as part of Students Taking a New Direction, an anti-smoking initiative that seeks to break the pull of addiction through powerful art.

STAND is seeking anti-smoking artwork from students that uses themes from popular culture.

"Cigarette and tobacco use of any form, shape or color is a poison," said Ortiz as students in Donna McCarthy's art class studied his work.

"If you're using it now, stop immediately - cold turkey. Later on, you won't be able to do it. It's just impossible. The end result is horrible and you don't want to go through it."

To make his point, Ortiz displayed a painting of Joe Camel, the buff icon for Camel cigarettes in the 1990s, as he lay dying from lung cancer in a hospital bed. The emaciated animal, breathing from a trachea tube, was surrounded by death-room equipment Ortiz photographed after he bribed nurses to let him see it.

The faces of numerous deceased celebrities smiled from other paintings as Ortiz listed their names - John Wayne, Don Knotts, Desi Arnaz, Michael Landon, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball - and how they died from cigarettes. Ortiz said painting those faces after reading their biographies was the start of his anti-smoking campaign.

Wayne, who stood 6 feet, 4 inches and weighed 240 pounds in good health, smoked six packs - or 120 cigarettes - a day, said Ortiz. When he died of lung cancer, he weighed 94 pounds. Arnaz suffered the same fate as Wayne, said Ortiz, weighing only 84 pounds when lung cancer took his life. Ortiz said celebrities were dropping like flies because everyone smoked.

Samantha Rezzetti, an 11th-grade art student, said she understood Ortiz's message, and finally got her father to quit smoking and is now working on her mother's habit. Rezzetti said she couldn't believe the old magazine advertising Ortiz brought along, especially the Camel ad that claimed smoking after each meal settled the stomach.

"Mr. Ortiz's work is just powerful," said Rezzetti. "I liked his attention to detail, and the colors are really nice. You can see the darkness of smoking. He got his message across to me."

Bryce Todriff, another 11th-grade art student, agreed.

"The presentation was neat and eye-opening," said Todriff. "He has a different quality of work than I'm used to seeing and he really knows his stuff when it comes to smoking."


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