Fine Art Exhibitions, Sales, Services

Denville, NJ    973-452-9750  donna@donnacompton.com




Art is the manifestation of thought. It's taking the ethereal and making something concrete of it. Art allows ideas to be seen, held, and examined. My motivating idea is to explore painting as both a verb and a noun. The work emphasizes the substance of paint and the act of painting by utilizing motifs of brushstrokes, paint splatters, and stains. Like fossilized dinosaur footprints, these painting gestures are action frozen in time. And just as fossils are rock, solid and heavy, a painting, to me, is a three dimensional object of substance and weight.

This idea of the painting as an object with identity rather than an unacknowledged projection screen is emphasized by applying paint upon constructed forms of irregular shape to give the paintings a sense of presence, like sculpture.

My artistic sensibilities are influenced by a passion for history, and derived from noting the effects of time, and the visuals of archaeology where the cycle of life, construction and decay, repair, demolition, and the repurposing of fragments and locations is a repeating dynamic seen in layers. These observations are mimicked by layering paint over broken surfaces which, like archaeological troughs, invite inspection. The fragmentary evidence of life and action fuels the imagination, and meaning for the observer, like the archaeologist, is created through fact and personal interpretation.


The 3A series is a further exploration into the substance of paint and the act of painting by synthesizing my aesthetic sensibilities with my current observations of nature, and my recollections of nature as seen in construction sites and archaeological excavations. Additionally these new paintings answer a question earlier work evoked and pay tribute to my artistic origins.

Previous paintings were wildly dynamic, amorphous forms of large scale and depth so the question arose whether they were sculpted paintings or actually painted sculpture. This series responds by reducing the scale and stretching canvas over relatively simpler forms and leaving the sides visible to showcase the folded canvas corners and tacking, while the paint application concentrates on the surface—my work is painting.

The use of irregular shapes in the paintings, the textures, broken surfaces, and embedded objects can all be traced to my work with clay in the early 1980s. As homage to those clayworks this series displays frequent use of a trowel as well as the color of terra cotta.


I entered art school to acquire drawing and painting skills to employ for animated filmmaking. At this time my understanding of painting was that it was simply adding color to a drawing. As my painting developed I realized the landscapes, still lifes and figures I was depicting were not my true subjects—the paint was. Yet I remained a representational painter as the purpose of abstract motifs alluded me.

In the fall of 1981 I found myself in the school’s clay studios, not as a participant, but out of curiosity. A New York Color Field painter ran the clayworks department and had introduced slab making to the scene. The students were rolling out lumps of clay into flat slabs and then pouring glaze on them as if they were painting an unstretched canvas on the floor. This type
of painting I was familiar with, but something about the clay intrigued me, so I unofficially joined the class.  The act of forming a painting surface with my hands quickened something inside me, and opened my eyes to what painting could be. Its malleability enabled me to break the restraints of traditional painting’s rectangular format and flat surface. With clay I could scoop out areas of the surface or build up layers as required. The surface could undulate and vary in thickness.

I experimented widely, including embedding glass fragments and steal wire which would then melt in the kiln yet stick to the clay. All this affected my thinking about painting. In clay, as opposed to painting, shapes had physical form—this was real volume, as opposed to illusions of volume.

As I continued with clay I also worked to translate its lessons to my painting. I began with shaped canvases and wood panels, then heavy textures, and was soon breaking the surface to create voids, and embedding items which would lift up and off the surface. Additionally, I used string and wire to transform drawing lines from mere marks into something tangible.

In 1983 I made several free standing paintings, including works on glass, but mostly my paintings were wall hangers. Occasionally brushstrokes left the canvas and carried out onto the wall. In the early 1990s I turned an entire room into a painting. Sheetrock was utilized to alter the basic shape of the room to create the feel of being enveloped by one of my clay slabs. Spackle was troweled on as if it were thick paint, and a broom became my brush. But fun as they might be to create, non-portable artworks weren’t practical, so I didn’t invest much into their creation.

Over the years I experimented with materials to find substances which were properly malleable and light, yet durable. Around 2008 I decided a resin-coated sculpted polystyrene would make the best painting surfaces for what I meant to accomplish at that time. All this work was lost in the 2011 fire, and currently my paintings’ supports are once again formed from wood and canvas or burlap.



Expanded Painting is a term I did not coin. A professor mentioned it to me, and upon research it doesn’t seem to be used much beyond a few obscure academic references, and it’s certainly not an artistic movement. Since it succinctly describes what I do, I’ve appropriated the phrase.

Throughout the modern era artists have frequently gone beyond traditional boundaries of painting, so I do not pretend to have invented anything new. However, I do not subscribe to any school of thought, nor am I a member of a particular movement — though some people try to connect my work to some particular artist or another, or a short lived movement from the 1950s, ‘60s or ‘70s.

My Expanded work began spontaneously while I was in school working with clay, and at the time I was too busy creating to think through what I was doing, or why. After the process shifted from clay to painting it occurred to me I was recreating things I had been looking at and admiring on construction sites all my life. In a way my abstract work is actually representational.


But if there were any strong influences on my art, they date from my early painting period, when I first saw beauty in the individual brushstroke and began to look closely at late 19th century French painters, particularly Manet and Monet. I spent a lot of time with them. Then Sherron Francis, the teacher who introduced me to clay, pointed out a one inch area in a still life painting I was working on and said, “Imagine if just those couple of brushstrokes were four feet tall.” That remark had probably the most profound influence of all.

Finally, I recognize the debt I owe to the early Modern era, including Picasso’s collages and assemblages of the nineteen teens, Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, and the Dada movement. They were pioneers who opened up new territory and gave permission for future painters to explore it. Although I say I have not copied them, I admit I was aware of their work. And because of them I never question the legitimacy of what I am doing, and neither does anyone else.


In 1983 I
graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from The Ridgewood School of Art and Design.  I had entered school with the intent of learning filmmaking and animation, then discovered the solitary nature of painting better suited my creative temperament, so I switched majors to Fine Art. After learning the technical skills of painting, I became fascinated with the physical qualities of the paint itself, and with brushwork. Exploring the possibilities of paint caused me to shift away from representational work to total abstraction, and painting became an intellectual voyage of discovery.

The success of this voyage, I believed, hinged on creative independence.  In order to be free to experiment in different styles and maintain control of development and output, I worked as a carpenter and later as an antique dealer.I envisioned a future where my business would give me financial security and as a mature artist I could make my art public and my success would be measured by the quality of the art, not on sales receipts.

Sometime in the 1990s a long-term illness in the family forced me to to leave my business to become a full time care provider. Events of the following years saw me surrounded  by illness, death, bankruptcy and isolation. Yet through it all the painting continued. After my house burned with 35 years of art new challenges arose and life suddenly became difficult.

In 2012 I found myself in the woods in tiny cabin 3A, my life’s work gone, no studio, an income insufficient to pay the rent, and no means to move on. As I attempted to advance, hopeful fingerposts sent me down dead end paths time and again until I questioned if the signs were funny, or if I habitually misread directions. Regardless, by 2016 the only way forward seemed to be in the creation of a portfolio and entering the art market. This had been the long term goal, after all—but its creation was never envisioned to come around this way. 



My stay in Cabin 3A was meant to be temporary. It was only a convenient shelter in a storm, an emergency stop. It was a place meant to be left behind as soon as the skies cleared. Or at least as soon as the floods abated. Even if it took a little time to recuperate, certainly cabin 3A would not be a permanent residence. But events… Events have a way of dictating terms in life and I found myself sentenced to confinement in a cabin somewhere in the woods, with no hope for an early parole.
And there I was. An artist with a compulsion to
create, and no studio or supplies. Then a Good Samaritan gave me a camera. Though I wasn’t painting, at least I was creating again. Later I sketched the woods. I drew blueprints for new paintings. Eventually my mind shifted away from the ongoing trials, and my training as a historian enabled me to imagine different circumstances and scenarios of people who might inhabit a cabin in the woods. I conjured hermit philosophers and spiritual pilgrims. I thought of 19th century archaeologists, geologists, botanists and the like on their field expeditions, taking notes, gathering specimens, and how they labeled and crated them.

Then I thought anew of my loss and this time of deprivation, the resulting struggles, and the anguish, and how these were not the totality of the situation. I substituted an expedition of the kinds I imaged for the difficulty I was in. I saw a painter on expedition in the woods—sur le motif. Moreover, I realized that in order to move beyond my col-de-sac of misery I somehow I needed to create a new portfolio. Then I understood whatever form this portfolio took, it was a document of my time in cabin 3A, somewhere in the woods north of Cedar Lake, NJ.



Exhibit Information / R.S.V.P.

Donna Compton

973-452-9750    donna@donnacompton.com