“I’ve taught art for 20 years and he was one of the most unique and talented students I’ve had,” O’Hare said, his voice breaking. “He was a minimalist, and that is a sophisticated type of painting for a young man. He was so sensitive…and creative, mixing paint with other materials, like brake fluid, to try to get a certain viscosity.”
His sculptures and painting merited special recognition at student exhibitions at the Bass Museum of Art and the Perez Art Museum Miami and from the Watercolor Society, O’Hare said.
During Art Basel, Hernandez-Llach would hang out with graffiti artists converging in town from all over the world. For the last couple of years during Basel, he exhibited work at a show at Shake Shack on Lincoln Road. His work was voted by customers as one of the best. He also worked on a charity project in which students incorporated their artwork into donated old guitars auctioned to raise funds, and again, Hernandez-Llach’s work was recognized with an award for outstanding design.
“He was on the right track artistically,” O’Hare said.
But one thing troubled him, the teacher said, gave him “a great deal of stress” and kept him from seeing a future beyond high school: His lack of a legal immigration status, which some news reports now say had been resolved at the time of his death.
At Beach High, he was particularly proud of winning this year the highest award given to an art student.
“He told me that being up there in front of all the smart kids, that was the highlight of his life,” O’Hare said.
“I told him, ‘There’s going to be many more.’ But I was wrong. I’m heart-broken.”
The fact that Hernandez-Llach had talent and promise — he dreamed of combining his art and skateboarding into a business venture — only adds another layer to the tragedy.
Promising artist or simply a kid hooked on the risky thrill of graffiti writing — his Reefa tag can be found from Sunny Isles to Hollywood, his skateboarding route — what needs judgment in this case is not the dead teenager’s character but whether police officers exercised good judgment in the handling of a minor offense.
The use of a weapon against a youth who was not committing a violent crime is reprehensible.
By using a Taser that ended Hernandez-Llach’s life, the police essentially turned an arrest into an execution, and as unintentional as that might have been, the police action became a far greater crime than spray-painting a wall.
“Truly a sad story,” New York photographers James and Karla Murray, whose book Miami Graffiti documents the transient art form, wrote me Friday. “He seemed to be looking for something out there that he wasn’t finding anywhere else… some outlet to express himself that was worth risking his freedom for. If he left home that night thinking its worth might also cost his life, we’ll never know. May he rest in peace.”