Isabelle Haran-Leonardi’s March 14, 2015 cover for Dan’s Papers was “Arshamomaque Pond, in Southold,” with wintry trees arching over a central path, perspective guiding the eye back to a glimpse of blue water. This week’s cover, a similar scene, “Cherry Trees, 5th Street, Greenport” nicely jumps into the season with flowering pink limbs that fold gently toward center, and reflects once again Haran-Leonardi’s love for “tunneled” compositions.
How did you go from being a high school biology teacher in Queens to being a full-time North Fork artist with a preference for large-scale landscapes?
I have an M.A. in Education and though I didn’t want to be a teacher at first, I got to love it, but having a special needs child complicated my life. I wanted a more relaxed area, closer to where my husband worked, and where I could find schools with programs for autistic children. Although I do watercolors, especially fish, and used to do acrylic, I found myself doing larger canvases, in oil, particularly in response to the North Fork water. Autism demands routine, and my heart was longing for chaos and freedom. Art became like breath to me, something I did for balance. I also discovered a series of oil paints said to be modeled on Van Gogh’s pigments. I loved the sensual feeling they evoked, like nice whipped cream, and found what I call “North Fork blue.” The colors and the longer drying time of oil made it easier to keep working on larger canvases.
Do you think that children on the autism spectrum benefit from learning about art?
I speak as a parent, not as an educator, of course. Many students of this population feel excluded from typical school experiences. Art gives a voice to their feelings and an interesting way of looking at the world. Often in autistic children there is a special attention to detail, recognition of patterns, a different kind of attention to composition. I’ve seen teachers use mural making as a way to learn and practice social skills. I’ve also noticed that many people on the spectrum are very interested in anime [Japanese hand-drawn or computer animation]. This may make art teachers pull their hair out, but anime can be key to getting students to draw and explore aspects of culture and design.
What prompted you to open your gallery, Nova Constellatio?
I always wanted a studio and a place to show my own art, and when I finally felt I could cope with the demands of being a parent (I have three kids), a wife and a painter, I found a great spot in a historical district and did it. The gallery is not just an exhibition place. It has workshops. My ultimate goal is to open different kinds of workshops, and particularly attract younger, emerging artists. The space is also a meeting place in the off-season for “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity” [a movement started in the 1990s, based on the self-help book of that name by Julia Cameron). It provides, by way of a program of techniques and exercises, an opportunity for people—not just artists—to gain self-confidence. I’m fortunate in that I’ve had excellent sales of my paintings, mostly by word-of-mouth, and clients from all over the world, many of whom come to the North Fork as tourists. I treat my gallery as an extension of my home, meeting people, having conversations. It has also been interesting to learn the history behind the landscapes I paint. This week’s cover, for example, was part of a beautification program by the mayor of Greenport in the 1970s, Joseph Townsend Jr. [He oversaw the planting of the cherry trees.]
Isabelle Haran-Leonardi’s paintings are on view at Nova Constellatio, 419 Main Street, Greenport. Special exhibitions are held each July, where the common theme is water. [email protected].