Featured Artist: Luis Garay

Granada-native Luis Garay is a noted artist who been called the best young Latin American illustrator working today. He has won two international awards and is featured in “Under the Spell of the Moon,” a compilation book of the world’s best children’s book illustrators. Garay, age 39, has also written three books, The Kite, Pedrito’s Day and The Long Road. His stark, realistic style portrays the realities of growing up in Central America. They are tales of the everyday lives of children in Nicaragua, poignant but hopeful. Unlike much of children’s literature, his work contains no fantasy.

“I call my style social realism. I wanted kids in North America to know what life was like here. North American kids always think they’re lacking something,” Garay said. “What was I supposed to write about and paint? Snowmen? I went to my roots, what I know. My instincts told me what to do.” Garay gets the inspiration for his stories “by going into the streets, observing and photographing the lives of children around Nicaragua,” In The Kite, young Francisco and his mother are poor, he rises at dawn to deliver newspapers in the marketplace. One day he sees a kite hanging in one of the stalls. He longs for the kite that could fly free in the blue sky far above the crowded streets of the city in which he lives. It seems that he will have to put off his dream because his mother is expecting a baby, and every penny he earns will soon be needed. But sometimes, dreams do come true.

Pedrito’s Day tells the tale of a boy who shines shoes to help support his family and save money to buy a bicycle. While on an errand to help a friend working a market stall find change for a larger bill, he joins in a street futbol game. When the game ends, Pedrito finds the bill is lost from his pocket and the dream of bicycle ownership is yet farther in the future.

The Long Road tells the story of a Latin American family that immigrates to North America.This story centers around two universal concepts: “journey” and “home.” These concepts are explored through the story of a young boy from Central America who must flee from his comfortable home and his country when civil war breaks out.

He received the Blue Ribbons Award in1996, chosen by the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, for Jade and Iron: Latin American Tales from Two Cultures. This anthology of stories introduces the richness of the experience and culture of Latin Americans — the people of jade and iron. Jade and Iron is a sampling of Latin American tale-telling, including legends of warriors, princesses, volcanoes and magicians. “My publisher woke me up- I work nights and sleep days- to tell me. It included a $5,000 prize; I said they could wake me up any time with news like that.”

Garay went to Guatemala to prepare for his best selling- work, Popul Vuh, written by Victor Montejo. He traveled extensively, researching settings and plant life and visiting museums to authentically portray pre-Columbian settings. Popul Vuh is the Mayan creation story, the Bible of indigenous Central Americans. “It was a huge responsibitly for me, it was the first time a fine artist was to bring it to life. The Mayan take it very seriously. It is their religion. Some scholars call it the most complete creation story in human literature. The Bible starts with Genesis, when God created the earth. Popul Vuh begins before that.”

A simpler work can take three weeks, longer ones three months. Illustrating a single book takes about a year. “They are not illustrations, they’re paintings.” Garay works in watercolors and ink, or acrylics on canvas. These are children’s and adolescents books, written for the 9-13 year-old age group. Garay was living in Toronto when his career as an illustrator began after contracting to illustrate a book for UNICEF. Though he had studied art at Bella Arte in Granada under Pedro Vargas, he was an industrial engineer working at a factory in Canada. He has since illustrated seven books. He is currently working on his eighth book, Alfredito Flies Home, about coming back to your roots, part two of an anthology that starts with The Long Road. “I work all the time,” Garay said.

More than 120,000 copies of Garay’s books have been sold, all are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Garay can be reached by e mail at garayluis@hotmail.com His publisher is Groundwood Books in Toronto. They are sold in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South America- but not Nicaragua. “The culture of children’s literature is just beginning here in Central America. I would like to change that, to hold conferences of writers and publishers here (in Granada).

“I would like to change the perception that illustrations only compliment the story. Words need translation. Pictures are universal. What I want to achieve someday is to be studied by future generations, to gather perceptions, to challenge and inspire.”

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