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Art Student Standing Out Among the Other Fish in the Sea

By Joseph D’Andrea

Adelphi University sophomore Gary Solorzano-Ruiz’s art work is popping up all over Long Island — and winning recognition.

The art and design education major from Merrick has made paintings for local libraries, designed the logo for the East Meadow High School boy’s lacrosse team, and had a few pieces displayed in the Art Guild of Port Washington, one of which was sold. Most recently, he won a contest offered by the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, New York to create a mural.

“The artwork that Gary submitted was very well received,” said Danielle Perillo, director of the New York Marine Rescue Center (NYMRC), which offered the contest. “We had received several submissions that were narrowed down to the top five by our board and senior staff members. Those four went on our website and were open to the community to vote.”

Solorzano-Ruiz was one of the two winners that were selected, winning over the judges with his painting that features marine life in a vibrant blue ocean. He created his mural in April, and a formal unveiling ceremony will be held this month at the NYMRC, located within the Long Island Aquarium.

He said that when the contest first got on his radar, he immediately got his supplies together and jumped on the opportunity.

“I was really excited when I found out about the contest,” Solorzano-Ruiz said. “Anything ocean-related is my favorite to draw and paint, so this contest was right up my alley. What’s most exciting is that this mural contest almost feels like a full-circle moment for me. I have been going to the aquarium for so many years, even painting my room to replicate one of their walls, and now I’m able to leave my mark with my own design.”

Solorzano-Ruiz’s entry, seen here, will soon be expanded into a full-sized mural to be on display at the Long Island Aquarium. Photo Credit: Gary Solorzano-Ruiz

While in high school, the Merrick, New York native had even considered studying marine biology when he’d enter college, so he felt that the premise of the contest could not have been better-suited to his interests. Roleplaying the idea of teaching the subject, he said that he’d even used to make binders filled with lesson plans about marine biology.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his artistic influence comes from “Finding Nemo” and other Pixar films. The animated film about a father’s search for his missing son—both being clownfish—is a great example of visual storytelling, said Solorzano-Ruiz, who is minoring in animation at Adelphi.

“What has always captured my attention was all of the hard work and dedication that went on behind the scenes [at Pixar] to bring these beautiful stories to life,” he said. “By watching these making-of videos, my appreciation for animation grew and I understood that it was a challenging medium, even at a young age.”

Beyond the big screen, Solorzano-Ruiz also received inspiration and encouragement from his teachers throughout his years in school. As a result, he said he envisions himself in front of a classroom in the future.

“I’ve always imagined myself teaching others,” he said “I want to help people learn about the things that I’m passionate about and hopefully inspire them. One time, my tenth grade art teacher allowed me to teach the rest of the class how to draw themselves as a cartoon. That was exciting for me because I was showing all of my friends and peers what I love doing and they were having fun doing it, too. I really got an insight as to what it’s like to be a teacher—all of the planning that goes into it, and then seeing the lesson come to life.”

Solorzano-Ruiz said his instructors at Adelphi have also been very supportive. “The professors are really dedicated to making sure that we go out of our comfort zones and try out new mediums that maybe we never considered using.”

He continued: “What’s nice about art is that I can always incorporate marine biology into my works. I’m always drawing and painting ocean sceneries and animals anyway, so it feels like I’m mixing the two together. I’ve always imagined myself teaching others. I want to help people learn about the things that I’m passionate about and hopefully inspire them.”

Solorzano-Ruiz’s teachers are likewise impressed by him.

“Gary is someone who works hard and brings a unique perspective to everything he does,” said Robyn Cooper, an adjunct faculty member in Adelphi’s Art and Art History Department who taught four classes taken by Solorzano-Ruiz. “He is constantly making work outside of class projects which shows his dedication to his artistic career beyond his time here at Adelphi.”

In the years to come, Solorzano-Ruiz plans on involving himself in more contests, and hopes to publish a book with the characters he’s created.

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