Supertrain Release: Michelle Campos Castillo and Roger Garcia

A photo of an Edmonton LRT with artwork by Michelle and Roger featuring illustrations of birds, foliage, corn stalks, tree branches, plantain plants and bunches.

We’re very excited to share that the newest Supertrain temporary public art project, featuring Michelle Campos Castillo and Roger Garcia, is out in the world! Keep an eye out for this lovely train around the city.

Michelle Campos Castillo is a Salvadoran visual artist living in Edmonton. She has received several public art commissions from the City of Edmonton. She has a new role as Co-Executive Director at Latitude 53 and is working on a graphic memoir titled “Colonia”, based on her life in El Salvador during the country’s civil war.

Roger Garcia is a self-taught freelance illustrator and art educator based out of Edmonton committed to giving back to the community and sharing his skills. A refugee from El Salvador, Roger and his family escaped to Canada in the 1980’s fleeing civil war. Currently, he’s working on a personal comic book about his late dog and father.

Michelle and Roger Supertrain Exterior IMG 5013 web

We asked Michelle and Roger some questions about their Supertrain design. Read on below to learn more about their work:

Could you explain how the work connects to the theme of Environmental Stewardship? What was your creative process in creating your designs for the LRT from that theme?

Michelle: I think we wanted to emphasize that we are all connected and responsible for the well being of the earth. The weather has become extreme enough in Canada that we are finally experiencing a lot of what the rest of the world, especially the global south, has been experiencing for years. There’s already climate refugees and we personally understand what it’s like to be displaced. As always, we want to celebrate our Salvadoran culture and also highlight the beauty of our lands that are also endangered. There’s a lot to choose from when we think of the natural beauty of El Salvador; we tried to focus on objects and landmarks that we felt connected to, and from memories of our childhoods.

Roger: Michelle and I both knew that we wanted to illustrate our memories as well as plants, animals and vegetation from our homeland that was around us. Our respect for nature was instilled in us early on and we carried that with us when we immigrated to Edmonton. We wanted to create an exchange of knowledge of these regional fruits, vegetables and plants that are imported into Canada daily and perhaps eaten by most. 

What is the significance of the animal and plant motifs in the work?

Michelle: We wanted to pay tribute to the Salvadoran culture but we also wanted to tell stories with the work and chose imagery that was special to us, like the fruit trees I grew up with and all the fruit bats you feel flying above your head at night. It also blows my mind that a place so vulnerable in many ways is also surrounded by a bunch of active volcanoes, adding to the precariousness of the land at times.

Roger: Just as Michelle, I wanted to share imagery that was special to me as well. The hibiscus and guava trees were very prominent in our backyard and garden growing up. I ate them both when I was really hungry. But what I ate the most was tortilla or some type of dish that used corn flour. As I began thinking and drawing for this project, one image kept popping up in my head, birds. My memories as a child always involved birds. I remember seeing and listening to them everywhere, all around our garden and trees in El Salvador. In my family we have always had birds as pets up until this day, perhaps it’s a small way to keep the memory of home alive. So I wanted to honor my pet birds as well as pay a special tribute to a cherry head conure parrot my late father loved so dearly; Tally. I recently reunited them at the cemetery once more. 

What does it mean to you to have your work out there in such a unique and publicly accessible way? 

Michelle: Edmonton is such an incredibly diverse city and while Salvadorans may be a small fraction of the population, I think many people from tropical places can identify the plants and themes in our work. I’ve already received messages from Salvadoran people proud to see themselves in the illustrations. It really is everything to me that I can offer some representation to people who have been displaced; I know the loneliness and alienation of not feeling rooted anywhere. I’m a big supporter of public art where no economic or physical barriers interfere with the experience.

Roger: I think a lot of people will be able to relate to our piece and the theme. I hope it makes people smile and hope that Salvadorians and others will be able to enjoy it as the train passes by or the next time they board it. It means a lot that both Michelle and I are able to share a few of our memories from El Salvador with the community and city.    

What drawing process/programs did you use to create your artwork?

Michelle: There’s a combination of sketching on paper, followed by Procreate on ipad and some illustrator and photoshop work to deal with resolution at such large sizes. 

Roger: I created my sketches on paper first and used Procreate on the ipad to color most of the interior images. For the exterior of the train, I drew and coloured everything in Photoshop. 

What are future plans or projects you’re working on?

Michelle: I’m working on my graphic novel about growing up in El Salvador and adjusting to my new role as co-Executive Director at Latitude 53.

Roger: I am working on a personal comic book about my late father and dog that deals with loss and grief. With this book I hope to inspire readers to adapt during hard times while offering love, humour, hope and comfort.