This week’s cover is an oil painting by North Fork artist Isabelle Haran Leonardi titled “Arshamomague Pond, January 2013.” The imagery seems particularly suited to this very moment—there’s still snow on the ground and yet there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Leonardi’s tree branches form an arching canopy through which we have a glimpse of bright blue light reflected off the water. The artist fills us in on her inspiration and her background in biology—leading up to the founding of Nova Constellatio in Greenport.
Is this a scene painted from the area?
This scene is from one of the trails in the Paul Stoutenburgh Preserve in Southold. It’s a place of great quiet and peace, and I love to wander there for inspiration. While walking there a few years ago, I saw the trees bowed down under the weight of the heavy snow and it reminded me of the arches of a cathedral. Something about the promise of the water just beyond the curved branches felt very magical to me, and I created the painting from that experience. I wondered what those same trees would be like in early spring and made another painting, “Arshamomague Spring,” from the same place, just facing away from the water.
Many of your oil paintings are landscapes, seascapes and vineyards—it would seem you are inspired by your surroundings. Is there anything in particular that feeds your creativity?
I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world. I see my work in biology and art as two different ways of exploring this interest. After my move from the city to the North Fork in 1992, I became even more interested in painting the landscape. I was in love with expansiveness of the sky and the quality of the light on the East End. I began to focus on the North Fork’s vineyards and waters. These canvases became much larger, to communicate how big the sky felt to me here. The vineyard paintings arose from my appreciation of the growing viniculture in my area as a way of preserving agricultural space. I often paint them with big foregrounds filled with flowers to make the viewer feel immersed in the landscape. Being surrounded by water really affected my work. I decided for a year to really observe and learn to paint just that: no beaches, no people, just the power, translucence, and reflections of water. I also use landscape as a way to process my own life. Main subjects are often stand-ins for myself, family members or friends.
When did you first really dive into painting. How did your career as an artist develop?
When I was in high school, I was introduced to a young artist in residence, Carmen Guaci, who became a mentor to me. Although I majored in biology and mathematics, I was able to continue my training at Marymount Manhattan College. I worked in science and as a high school biology teacher. As a young mother of a son severely impacted by autism, I decided to leave teaching and focus more fully on my art. After our move to the North Fork with my growing family, my work changed. The colors became more intense, and it became much bigger.
How did you come to open the gallery?
I worked for many years in my little glass walled 10- x 10- foot studio facing the woods, but I realized I needed more space. In 2012, I opened Nova Constellatio Gallery, which I maintain as an open studio. The walls and ceiling are covered in cream painted tin. At this time I am only showing my own work. I have found the energy of Greenport and its visitors has also changed my work. The work is looser, and lighter.
Isabelle Haran Leonardi’s next show at Nova Constellatio, “On the Water” opens July 3 at 419 Main Street in Greenport. It will coincide with the arrival of the Tall Ships to Greenport Harbor. Visit ihlart.com to see more work by the artist.