Lara is seen holding a ribbon for a first place award in the professional category in the Art in City Hall exhibit of December, 2009. The award is for her chalk pastel on paper, 16"/20", titled "Crouching Dancer" (on the wall).

Lara is seen holding a ribbon for a first place award in the professional category in the Art in City Hall exhibit of December, 2009. The award is for her chalk pastel on paper, 16″/20″, titled “Crouching Dancer” (on the wall).

by Jacqueline Rupp

Like scenes from an avant garde movie, local artist Lara Cantu-Hertzler creates the illusion of three-dimensional worlds in her paintings. Drawing upon elements of architecture intermixed with the human form, her pieces are surreal, soft and liquid snapshots into an abstract yet familiar world. 

Locally and nationally, Lara, 28, has been quite successful. In 2012, she showed in the Woodmere Art Museum Annual group show and followed that in 2013 with a fellowship artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center.

She also won Best of Show from Highwire Gallery in Fishtown, where she held a solo exhibit. Last year also found her exhibiting her work in the Chestnut Hill “Fall for the Arts Festival,” where she took home Best of Show and First Place in the Oils category. And, most recently this winter, you could find her paintings on display at the High Point Café on Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy, along with the Rosenfeld Gallery on 2nd and Arch Streets in Old City, in their annual “Small Works Show.”

Born in Boston but raised in Chestnut Hill, Lara attended Project Learn School in Mt. Airy, Philly’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she earned a B.A. in Fine Arts. Her mother, of Spanish descent, was born and raised in Mexico, and her father, of German descent, was born and raised in Goshen, Indiana.

Working primarily in oils, Lara paints on gessoed wooden panels. (Ed. Note: gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment or any combination of these. It is used in artwork as a preparation for any number of substances such as wood panels, canvas and sculpture as a base for paint and other materials that are applied over it.)

For some years, Lara has worked in a triptych format, compositions divided into three parts, with divided perspectives on the same subject. “Some of my most recent paintings use a horizontal stacking of perspectives,” explained Lara. “The buildings almost seem to be moving with this double image effect. It is hard to tell if the building is being built up or going to fall down, I like this ambiguity.”

And if you haven’t had the chance to see Lara’s artwork, you may have seen her on a recent grocery shopping trip. Lara has been working full-time at Weaver’s Way in Chestnut Hill for the past two and a half years. You can find her either in the grocery department or at the register, fresh from her morning routine of painting before work.

This is Lara’s "Reflections Dance," 24"/36” oil on glass from 2010.

This is Lara’s “Reflections Dance,” 24″/36” oil on glass from 2010.

“There are a lot of interesting, fun people there,” she said. “A few of the Weavers Way staff have modeled for my paintings.” And Lara has combined her two worlds in a very creative way. In 2012 she exhibited a small show right across the street from the Weavers Way in Mt. Airy. Her general manager, Glenn Bergman, came in and bought one of her “little house paintings,” and the store manager, Rick Spalek, then commissioned her to do a painting of his house in Germantown.

It was through this work that Lara then was commissioned by Weavers Way in the same year to do a painting of the exterior view of the Mt. Airy Store. “It was Rick’s idea for me to do an 18”x18” painting of the Mt. Airy store. The painting is now hanging in the Mt. Airy Weavers Way.”

One look at Lara’s work, and it is easy to see that architecture plays a significant role in her art and imagination. “I continue to be influenced by the architecture in Philadelphia, particularly the older deteriorating architecture,” explained Lara. “When I look at some of these deteriorating buildings, it makes me sad because I see buildings that were so well made with such intricate detail just being let go and forgotten.

“At the same time there is also something very beautiful about the aesthetic of these crumbling buildings. The building seems more alive and has a sense of mortality when you don’t know if it’s going to be rebuilt or torn down.  By painting these buildings, I feel I’m preserving them.”  

Lara’s paintings have also allowed her to bring attention to causes she finds important, such as in 2011, when she created a painting based on a photo to illustrate the humanitarian need in Haiti. The painting went on to help raise funds for disaster relief for that devastated country.

So what is next for this painter and self-described teller of bad jokes who is also a performance art enthusiast? Lara is hoping to show this summer in Rosenfeld Gallery’s emerging artists show. This month she is also scheduled to show at the Rosenfeld Gallery in Old City. 

And Lara still has many places left to draw inspiration from locally. “I would be happy to be commissioned to paint any older style building in Philadelphia; however, one building I have had my eye on is the abandoned Gothic church on 12th and Spring Garden. It’s a stunner!”

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