Artist Orianna Montenegro Harnesses the Muse of Nature and Her Venezuelan Roots

The artist paints in her home studio.
The artist paints in her home studio. Orianna Montenegro photo
Inside artist Orianna Montenegro’s apartment/studio in Edgewater, a monstera plant looms tall in the corner, its leaves bending toward the natural light coming from the nearby window. The fresh smell of eucalyptus from a vase in the center of the dining room table fills the air.

The artist surrounds herself with plants and lush greens as a way to stay connected to her homeland. Montenegro studied fine art and graphic design at Lindenwood University in St. Louis before moving to Miami in 2016. Despite residing in a big city, memories of her small-farm-town upbringing in Venezuela fuel her creativity.

"I'm very connected to nature," she says, leaning onto a tabletop. "It's one of my main sources of inspiration for me.”

Nearly every morning, Montenegro goes for a walk around Margaret Pace Park. The view of the downtown skyline across the bluish hues of Biscayne Bay is enough to awe an ordinary onlooker. Some mornings, she makes it out in time to catch the sunrise.

"I take a lot of my inspiration from plants and nature, and I also go back to my Venezuelan roots, which isare very colorful and tropical," she explains. This explains her connection to color. She is very cognizant of color theory and spends time mixing her own paints to try and control the shades as much as possible."[Making art] is just so soothing to me. It keeps me grounded," she adds, adjusting her soft, peach-colored glasses frames and revealing a rose-gold snake ring writhing on her index finger.

Although Montenegro has been drawn to the arts since childhood, it was during a year spent aboard in Lyon, France, that her love of the craft flourished. She was 19, studying alone in a foreign country. She’d spend her free time in museums and painting in plazas or along the Rhône.

"That's when I really knew that I wanted to study art," she says.
click to enlarge
Bloom 2, on view at Galeria Azur
Orianna Montenegro photo
Now the 29-year-old dedicates herself to painting, not in open-air markets, but in her home studio.

Montenegro's work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, St. Louis, Spain, and Venezuela. Later this month, the artist is featuring her work as part of a group show at the newly opened Galeria Azur in Allapattah. The gallery has locations in Buenos Aires, Madrid, and Berlin and opened its Miami outpost in late October.

The series of paintings she created for the exhibition was directly inspired by algae. After watching a program about algal bloom on the Discovery Channel, Montenegro’s imagination was buzzing.

"It's insane," she says, using her hands to emphasize the sentiment. "I mean, it's like an animal party when the algae are in bloom, and these sea creatures feast on them. It's also huge for the ecosystem of the ocean. I wanted to celebrate this in a way with these paintings," she adds, gesturing to some freshly painted canvases.

For her newest body of work, Montenegro didn't use a single brush. Each color and layer of paint is applied drop by drop. She pulls a dropper from her pile of supplies and shows its wear.

Plastic bottles covered in dry paint stand neatly in one corner of the space while two large, colorful pieces lie drying on top of a table. Sunlight blankets part of a painting, making its colors look almost iridescent. The watercolors blend into each other like a kaleidoscope, causing the viewer's eye to flow throughout the entire piece — almost mirroring the motion of a clump of algae in the ocean water. It's equal parts trippy and calming.

"I like to take people through a journey of nature and make them feel what I feel when I see these patterns and shapes. I'm typically in a state of relaxation when I paint, and that's what I aim to convey," Montenegro explains.

Montenegro's muse emerges when she's in a state of happiness or when her confidence is at an all-time high. It's a powerful feeling to harness, and she does so with quiet grace.

"I try to give a little bit of happiness to people through my work," says the artist. A tender smile edges onto her face, and her eyes look down into her hands as she searches for the next set of words. "[My work] is kind of like a little window into my world, and I want for other people, when they see my work, to feel that same sense of relaxation and happiness that I felt in making it."

Orianna Montenegro. Monday, November 28 through Tuesday, December 20 at Galeria Azur Miami, 1626 NW 36th St., Miami; 786-408-4266;
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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.

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