By Candice Green
Chestnut Hill artist Lara Cantu-Hertzler’s compelling work is attracting much favorable attention at Woodmere Art Museum’s 71st Annual Juried Exhibit, which opened July 28 and will continue through Sept 30. Lara also expects to participate in Chestnut Hill’s Annual Fall for the Arts and will be taking an arts residency for the month of February, 2013, in Northern Vermont.
The whiff of paint strongly lingered in the air as I stepped into her studio for the first time. Her paintings were arranged everywhere in the room; I was in a mini art gallery. After a close examination of each of her paintings, I realized she was diverse in her subject matter. Lara’s paintings vary from nude portraits of women to inanimate objects. Lara uses oil paint, a paint brush and a rubber brush. She also uses a pallet knife and Gessoboard, which is used for oil painting “because it has a nice smooth surface that helps you move the paint around more easily.”
Lara, 26, was born in Boston. Her mother, of Spanish descent, was born and raised in Mexico, and her father, of German descent, was born and raised in Goshen, Indiana. Since childhood Lara knew she was born to be a painter. She made sure every school she attended was established in the arts so she could perfect her skills and progress to higher levels. Growing up in Chestnut Hill, she attended Project Learn School in Mt. Airy and C.A.P.A. (Creative and Performing Arts High School), where she graduated in 2004.
In 2008, Lara graduated from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with a Certificate in painting and two years later earned a B.A. degree in Fine Arts from PAFA. She explained, “My schooling and teachers basically gave me methods and varied ideas, but after a while you need to become your own artist, making your own decisions. Listen to the painting.”
Lara uses collages made of photos and images to grasp her own perspective in what she sees and makes it her own. She said, “Sometimes I like to work from life to get more feeling, but I like collages because I feel it is more creative. I always paint very painterly, always keeping a sense of the brush stroke and a sense of the mark. My paintings are representational; however, there are elements of abstraction. Areas of the paintings are left as broad brush strokes. I want the viewer to see paint as well as an image. Mood and emotional content come from my reaction to the subject matter.”
We all know how difficult it can be to let your dreams as a child slip away as time goes on, but Lara was very adamant that this would not happen. “My ultimate goal,” she insisted, “is to be a practicing artist and make a living off of my artwork and be seen by the world. If I make money off of my artwork, I can make more art. You have to keep a good work ethic, keep working hard and find your niche; eventually you will get somewhere if you believe.”
Part of that work ethic is using your talent to help those who cannot help themselves. Early in 2011 Lara painted a copy of a newspaper photograph published in the days following the catastrophic earthquake which had just taken place in Haiti. The 24-by-36-inch painting shows a nurse spoon-feeding an injured child, while a small girl with a bandaged elbow hugs a fourth person.
Diane Speaks, who owns a boutique in Roanoke, Virginia, but was visiting Philadelphia at the time, happened to walk into the Chestnut Hill Gallery, where she saw Lara’s painting. She was so moved that she began selling prints of the painting, entitled “Haiti Rescue,” and donated 10 percent of each sale to the Roanoke Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, marked for aiding Haitians. After just one week she had sold 17 of the prints for $200 each.
Lara has had several private commissions and has received numerous awards for her work such as Third Place in the 2010 Philadelphia Sketch Club, Small oil paintings exhibition; Third Place in the 2009 National Arts Program, Art in City Hall, Professional Category; Mabel Wilson Woodrow Award, 2007 PAFA, Annual student exhibition; Carlson Landscape Painting Residency Award in 2006 at PAFA, Juried student exhibition; and First Place, 2005 National Arts Program, Art in City Hall, Intermediate Category.
Her work has also been in several local exhibits in addition to the current Woodmere juried exhibition, e.g., 2010 La Pelle Gallery Group Show, Chestnut Hill Gallery Emerging Artists Show and Sketch Club Small Oil Paintings; and 2009 National Arts Program Art in City Hall, and many others.