If Alex Regnier had painted his most recent creation on, say, the Orange Street underpass, he’d be in big trouble.

Instead, his colorful graffiti-style mural will grace the stairwell of Hellgate High School, its eye-catching design serving as a reminder not to use meth – not even once, as the Meth Project motto goes.

Regnier, a 2012 Hellgate grad, spent Wednesday and Thursday wielding cans of spray paint to create the 10-foot-tall, three-panel mural just in time for Friday’s National Meth Awareness Day.

“Ask a Knight,” the mural says across the top, in a nod to Hellgate’s mascot; across the bottom, “methproject.org.”

And in the middle, in huge fat letters, simply “ASK.”

The idea is to get young people to educate themselves about meth, so they’ll never even be tempted to try it.

“It’s bringing a positive message from something negative and making it into an artistic statement,” said Regnier, 19. “It’s a beautiful thing – and it’s fun.”

The Meth Project recently contacted Regnier, a freelance artist who’s done other artwork for the project, about doing the mural. Amy Rue, Montana Meth Project executive director, said the project paid Regnier $250 for the mural. The total cost, when supplies were factored in, was about $550, she said.

On Thursday morning, the mural stood propped against the wall on a Hellgate stairwell landing. Nearby, a table with trays of cookies – iced in Hellgate scarlet with black letters A-S-K – drew students in.

The chance to add to the mural kept them there. Another table held markers so that students could write their own messages with the mural’s big letters. Well – not exactly their own. Students drew words from a basket, then wrote those words – Suicide. Rotting teeth. Bleeding gums. Loss of family. Prostitution – on the canvas.

“Death,” wrote freshman Shelby Underwood in jagged red letters.

“I’m trying to make it seem more in depth to what meth does to you,” Underwood said of the dramatic lettering. “It shouldn’t be called meth awareness,” she said. “It should be straight meth prevention.”

Hellgate Principal Lisa Hendrix stood aside as students mobbed the landing for their chance to write on the mural.

“I not only like the message but I like the work,” she said. “I think the artwork is engaging and attractive. Look at all this activity.”

Mike Brady, assistant Missoula police chief, said projects like the mural help keep meth in the forefront of students’ awareness. “He’s put a lot of effort into this, to involve the kids and in particular, in making the project come to life,” Brady said of Regnier’s work.

Sam Orr, 17, got the message. “It’s very powerful,” he said of the mural. “I’m never going to do meth.”

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

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