An artist from Maine who was arrested in New York City last week for creating a series of fake ads mocking the city’s police department was known at Wiscasset High School as a brilliant art student who routinely challenged his teachers with his projects.

The New York Daily News reported that Essam Attia, 29, was charged with 56 counts of possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny possession of stolen property and weapons possession – having an unloaded .22-caliber revolver in his apartment in Manhattan.

The newspaper said Attia planted dozens of ads in display cases around the city in mid-September claiming that New York police use spy drones to monitor citizens.

Police tracked him down early Wednesday after he went online to explain the purpose of his work. His kiosk vandalism, he said, was timed to coincide with the “signing of the Constitution” and the convening of the United Nations General Assembly, according to animalnewyork.com.

“I’m not a big fan of the U.N.,” he told the website.

Attia, who was free on bail, did not respond to an email request for an interview with the Portland Press Herald on Monday.

Attia, who also goes by his nickname, Adam, is a 2002 graduate of Wiscasset High School.

“He was a very energetic little fella, very witty and very sharp,” said Thomas Block, who retired from Wiscasset High last year. “He has a very agile mind, constantly thinking of things and constantly thinking outside the box.”

Block, who also described Attia as “brilliant,” remembered a few instances when the student’s school work had “some controversial effect.”

Soon after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Attia and another student drove to New York and took photographs of the attack site “while it was still smoldering,” Block said. “He must have snuck in, or just slinked around. He was almost obsessive with a lot of the stuff he did. He would focus on something, and nothing would stop him.”

Attia’s photographs were displayed at the school.

Another time, he and other students were assigned to make plaster sculptures in a class project. To Block’s dismay, Attia made a half-body cast of himself, from the waist up, with help from several other students.

“I walked in the room and looked in horror at what he had done at first, and then burst into laughter,” Block said. “That was the first indication he was one to be watched. He was a bit of a handful. I had to watch him with the eyes in the back of my head.”

The retired teacher said he wasn’t surprised to learn of Attia’s guerrilla art project in New York. Without endorsing the message or methods, Block saluted his former student for having the courage to make a statement. That is the nature of art, Block said.

“Artists have to be a little rebellious,” he said. “You have to think outside the box, which he did.”

When Block retired in 2011, a group of former students saluted their mentor by staging a display of their artwork to show what they had accomplished through Block’s tutoring. Attia returned to Wiscasset for the show and gave Block a couple of photographs as a gift.

“I was very, very touched by that, very pleased,” Block said. “He is the kind of kid who will give you a big hug. He’s very outgoing and very affectionate toward people he likes.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes