This Denver Painter’s Personal Challenge: Rebel Against Color Theory


portrait of Denver artist Lola Montejo

Artist Lola Montejo stands in her Denver studio.

Lola Montejo is a self-described color theory nerd, but don’t expect her to strictly follow its tenets. “There’s a little rebelliousness when I hear all these ‘rules,’” she notes. “All I can think is, ‘what if?’”

As a result, she is prone to striking and unusual color combinations, such as aquamarine paired with black, shades of gray and spots of chartreuse, or denim blues mixed with peachy orange, chocolate brown and a touch of mint green. All are rendered in broad brushstrokes across canvases—some as tall as the artist—with each shade given equal vibrancy and distinction.

series of abstract colorful painting hung on wall

The artist says her work is guided by emotions and memories, and she taps both as inspiration for her abstract paintings in striking color combinations.

vignette of paintbrushes in jars and cups with figurines alongside

Her work space is filled with her artworks and tools.

a paint covered palette knife and paint pan

Paint colors splatter the surfaces of abstract artist Lola Montejo's Denver studio.

storage cabinets and shelves filled with painting supplies, with abstract paintings hung above

Storage cabinets house the artist's large collection of paintbrushes and other tools.

series of unframed colorful abstract paintings hung on studio walls

Studies on paper provide inspiration for future paintings

The rebellious streak started during Montejo’s senior year of college at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Until that point, she painted realistically, but for her thesis she decided to explore abstraction, something she continues to do today. Montejo describes her process as “intuitive,” drawing on emotions and memories—from a recent walk in the woods to her youth spent in the Mediterranean—to inform the shapes and colors she uses. Her pieces reflect “the way I feel living each day,” she says.

While nearly every work begins with an idea for a color scheme, Montejo is careful not to do the same thing every time she approaches a canvas. “I try to break my habits or sabotage my work in early stages to create something spontaneous,” she explains. “If I find I’m creating a shape that I like too much, I might spill paint over it to get me to stop looking at it and break the preciousness of that form.”

For Montejo, whose art is guided by emotion, the pandemic fueled an entirely new body of work. The anguish of the early days could have easily consumed her, but instead, she looked to the future. “I thought, ‘How do we move forward as a society? How are we going to take the steps and find the courage to keep going and get past this?’ ” she says. 

The artist turned those concepts into a series of monotypes during a residency at Oehme Graphics in Steamboat Springs this summer. Montejo typically works in oil on canvas, but she translated her process into printmaking by using torn pieces of paper as stencils. The resulting collage-like works compose her “Hereafter” series and are imbued with a lively palette drawn from nature: sky blue, iris purple, bark brown and streaks of sunny yellow. It’s a palette evocative of the hope felt after emerging from the darkness and finding the way forward.