Gallery Artistry

The Art of Relaxation

Denise Zompa looks to nature for inspiration by working en plein air


Local painter, Denise Zompa, works en plein air; not plainly, per se, but out in the open – under the blue-grays of the sky, where the water runs and the light sparkles, the trees blow sideways and the sun sets – and in the riverbank-style made famous by the great masters of the past. 

Denise, a multiple-award-winning oil painter, is lauded throughout New England for her contemporary landscape work: oil scenes of the woodlands, fields and dunes of Rhode Island that she calls “Colorscapes.” Each painting invites the viewer to delight in a quiet, tranquil place and to connect with the fresh feel of spring air or the cool ocean mist. 

“I am always conscious of nature and our beautiful New England vistas. Living near the water in a rural Rhode Island town reminds me every day of how fortunate we are to be near the ocean,” she says.

 Denise initially began in the education field, holding a BA in Art and Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Education, and studying painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and The Newport Art Museum. After retiring from teaching art, Denise began painting full time, both at her Bristol home and her studio in Tiverton Four Corners

“On site, I seek to capture the sense of a place with quick studies. [But] in the studio, I may do several larger paintings based on the original study. This offers the opportunity to re-imagine the landscape, removing some details, changing the placement of houses or trees, and playing with color combinations,” she elaborates. 

Her work showcases her admiration of the Impressionist’s manipulation of color – a trait she notes as inspiration, and found in the work of Monet, abstract painter Joan Mitchell, Canadian painter Tom Thompson and living painters Brian Rutenberg and Wolf Kahn

In fact, she recalls that the best compliment she received was from someone who compared her colors to Kahn’s. “He is the ultimate master of color,” says Denise. 

In kind, her work centers on this same treatment of color theory. After she captures the essence of a realistic landscape, she expands on it in the studio in order to create something unique. 

“I really enjoy moving the paint on the surface and being surprised by what happens. Lately, I’ve been cold wax medium to the oil paint. It makes the paint thicker and more transparent. My process involves layering the paint to develop the surface with a focus on texture. Then I may scrape away some paint to reveal the under painting and create negative spaces. The cold wax enhances this process. I use brushes, palette knives and other scraping tools like plastic cards and rubber spatulas,” she says. 

Using several layers of paint, she cuts deeply into her work with these tools in order to carve out a rich surface with an emphasis on color and texture. She favors complementary colors, often using reds and greens or yellows and violets and arranging bright, bold colors with softer, subtler hues. 

“Living near the water has given me the opportunity to explore nature and to enjoy painting plein air. Always experimenting and pushing the paint, I never really know what will happen and that’s the excitement that keeps a painter going,” she adds. 

As she cultivates the essence of an al fresco location in her canvasses, the work becomes therapeutic – soothing and enjoyable. Like any fine artist immersed in the spontaneous and adaptable quality of her work, Denise insists on going with the flow. “Studies show that doing an activity where you lose yourself increases [your] sense of well-being and reduces stress. Painting does that for me. Gardening, too,” she says. 

When finished, her greatest aspiration is that the work will transport a person in order to convey the sense of relaxation experienced in nature itself. 

“I hope the viewer will be drawn to a familiar place or a pleasant experience like a sail on the bay, a drive to Little Compton or a summer spent on Cape Cod. I want them to relate to the piece and get a feeling of peacefulness and tranquility.” 

Denise Zompa 

Currently on Display at The Art Café 

7 South of Commons 

Little Compton 

The Bay, James Merolla, Denise Zompa, Art, Impressionism, Tiverton Four Corners, Bristol, RISD, The Newport Art Museum


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