Teacher Secretly Sold His Students’ Art on Mugs and Shirts, Lawsuit Says

In January, students at a junior high school outside Montreal received an assignment to draw a classmate or a self-portrait in the style of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

“The challenge is to make an original artwork in Basquiat’s style; not to copy one of his images,” the teacher, Mario Perron, wrote to his students on the junior campus at Westwood High School in St.-Lazare, Quebec. “I am very familiar with Basquiat’s work and will return copied work, because it is considered plagiarism.”

The assignment was titled “Creepy Portrait.”

Basquiat was a worthy subject: He was the influential Brooklyn-born artist of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent who was known for a brief career in which he innovated with graffiti and other types of improvisational pieces. He died at 27 in 1988.

But parents of some students who completed the assignment were shocked to find that Mr. Perron had copied the portraits and was offering mugs, cushions, bags, apparel and other items for sale online bearing reproductions of the artwork, according to a class-action lawsuit filed last week in Quebec Superior Court.

Joel DeBellefeuille, who learned what was happening from his 13-year-old son, Jax, accused Mr. Perron in an interview of perpetrating a “premeditated” scheme. A portrait of Jax by one of his classmates was among the student artwork being offered for sale, he said.

I freaked out,” Mr. DeBellefeuille said. “I was full of emotions. Still now, it’s really unbelievable.”

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