Casa en el Cielo, an exhibit by Cristina Toro, runs through December 19th at LaCa (Latin American Contemporary Art) Projects. Toro, a native Puerto Rican who now lives and works in New York, shows work in galleries all over the world including Charlotte’s own Mint Museum. Dedicated to presenting emerging Latin American artists as well as showcasing established ones, LaCa Projects gallery opened in March of 2013.

I visited the gallery on a rainy fall day. Located on a quiet street just west of uptown Charlotte, LaCa Projects is housed in a large, open brick building lined with windows, giving a warm glow to the space. Toro’s vibrant paintings greet you as you step through the door. Full of bright colors and exotic animals, water and sunlight, Toro’s art transports you to an island paradise.

A short written synopsis of the artist and her exhibition introduces you to her paintings. The exhibition title, Casa en el Cielo / House in the Sky, comes from the song “Tiempo y Silencio / Time and Silence” by the Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora (1941-2010). Toro’s paintings are full of images from the song. She paints gardens, larks, sunsets, and stars. Évora’s deep, warm voice accompanies the artwork, pulsating with island rhythms.

A light haired, blue-eyed woman appears in many of Toro’s larger paintings. Her light eyes gaze off to the side, not wanting to look the viewer head on. She floats, reclines, or is otherwise suspended in the scene, as if she is traveling somewhere else with Toro merely capturing her on her journey. She nearly blends into the background, disappearing among exotic birds and fauna. One almost misses this figure when walking by the paintings. Her arms intertwine with her world. Flowers flow through her hands, wrap around her. In “Your Soul Has Become an Invisible Bee,” the woman lightly grazes a fern. Her humble dress is dull in comparison to the radiant colors of the birds and flowers in the painting. Small circles, which look like eyes and suns, add an element of fantasy and chaos. Small eyes follow you on your journey through Toro’s imagination.

Toro’s paintings are all acrylic on canvas or acrylic and collage on rag paper. In “1 Chair, 26 Birds, 5 Flowers,” we see her skill at blending textures and hues. Large white flowers overtake a humble chair. Images of birds, cut out in a circular shape and pasted onto the canvas, look at the viewer. This painting represents the juxtaposition of Toro’s art on many levels. The acrylic paint and the paper collage pieces fight on the canvas. Birds are movement and flight, yet the chair gently invites the viewer to rest. The muted tones of Toro’s brushwork set off the brightness of the collage pieces.

LaCa Projects displays Toro’s art beautifully. The front of the gallery encourages the viewer to look at the paintings closely. The colors shock and awe. One notices the brushwork, almost feels the texture. Snakes and lizards, butterflies and birds begin to crawl and float around you. Like the women in the paintings, you feel as though you are losing a battle with the surroundings as you fall deeper and deeper into Toro’s imagination. The final room displays Toro’s work in all its grandeur. Her paintings assault you at every angle, and you surrender to the exuberance of her work.

In the final room, one can view “Tiger in a Blooming Garden,” painted in 2014. It is a swirling delight of colors and displays many of Toro’s themes, but introduces some new ones. As one of the later paintings (most years listed ranged from 2007-13), one wonders and dreams about what will be next for Cristina Toro. Will we see bolder hues and stricter shapes? The images seem more direct here, more adamant. The tiger and the owl look directly at us and live less in the background. Toro’s journey in Casa en el Cielo seems to culminate in this painting. I am excited to see where she takes us next.

LaCa Projects is open on weekdays from 1-5 p.m. and by appointment. The gallery has plans for a major expansion, which will include a projection area, an authentic café, and resident studio artists. If Cristina Toro’s work is any example of what we can expect from LaCa Projects’ vision, then I hope to make regular visits to this incredible space.

For more information about this particular show, see the sidebar.