Lara Meintjes’ illustrations are something straight out of a storybook that tell the tale of loved ones and complete strangers…but with a peculiar twist. Rather than depicting exactly what a human looks like, she draws the person as an animal she envisions them as, or what they ask her to draw them as. Her use of anthropomorphism is what separates her work from most – from bison drinking coffee, cats playing leap frog, to bunnies doing gymnastics and donkeys playing with a human shaped piñata.
From the time Meintjes was a young girl, you could catch her with a paint brush in hand ready to explore the vibrant and colorful world inside her head. Vivacious is an understatement when it comes to her ambition as an artist and even to her appearance. You could probably spot her nearly a mile away with her curly, short, pastel pink hair, floral Cath Kidston dress, and glasses.
The self-taught South African born artist moved to the United States with her husband and their daughter six years ago primarily to seek the thrill of an adventure. What better place to move for an aspiring artist and musician/photographer other than Long Beach, California?
Meintjes captures human essence in a rather unique way through her portraits. It takes the focus away from what someone’s appearance is and more so on what kind of person (or animal) they are like. Her fascination with people and culture is never-ending. She points to one of her pieces and begins talking about the relation between an animal with its “hands” on its hips to her sister with a smile.
“My sister’s not a jackalope, but the pink dressed jackalope is my sister,” Meintjes tells the Weekly. She continues to describe her sister as strong-minded, successful, poised, and superhero like.
Accompanying each illustration is a short story; from ones that describe old childhood memories to ones regarding resting bitch face. She amalgamated her love for writing and art into one entity to give her audience more insight as to how she sees each figure in her piece.
The days following her father’s passing last September, Meintjes could not find the motivation to draw. She had a plethora of emotions she so badly wanted to communicate, but was stuck in a creative rut. She discovered a new outlet, which resulted in her floral paintings. September of this year, she dedicated a piece to her father – a bouquet of flowers in a blue and white urn with a black background. While these pieces came from a dark time in her life, Meintjes has often gotten complimented on how they emit happiness and liveliness.
“A lot of the time what I’m expressing and what people are getting are completely different things – that’s okay. It’s not about me. At the time that I show it, I lose control of the piece and then it becomes about us, and that’s really beautiful. It starts to tell a story of the connection between two people that might not ever meet,” Meintjes says.
Meintjes’ takes great inspiration from her favorite artists Henri Matisse, Grayson Merri, William Kentridge, and Marlene Steyn. She takes great influence from just about everything, including music, people and her daily walks. Compared to her home in Johannesburg, Long Beach provides a much safer environment for Meintjes as well as a tightknit community where people actually connect with strangers. Because of LB’s community, she has been able to showcase her work at Viento y Agua Coffee House for the last four years while focusing on making art for five. Her current exhibition "Lucky Fish" will be showcased throughout November and December at Viento y Agua. She also has another, "Lucky You", at Museum of Latin American Art on view through January 2017.
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When she is not making art of some sort, Meintjes is studying anthropology and ceramics, traveling, and having dance parties in the kitchen with her daughter. She hopes to begin painting murals, continue studying (and potentially double major), and go on more adventures with her family. Her dream is to one day make a cover for The New Yorker.
"It [Viento y Agua] is like a community-hub...it felt like a safe space to start showing work I wasn’t necessarily sure of at the time. I’m self-taught so with that comes an inherit questioning of whether you should be doing this. Giving me a safe space to be able to show my work is an extraordinary gift.”