Painting on the Waterfront
Artist Isabelle Haran-Leonardi shares her love for art and science
There’s a literal fluidity in the paintings by Isabelle Haran-Leonardi. Depictions of watery landscapes and the sea creatures, both real and mythical, that lurk beneath are a balance between the artist’s combined love of science and life by the water. This was the basis for a summer show, “Drawn to Water,” at her Greenport studio, Nova Constellatio Gallery. 15 large scale paintings of waves and nautical inspirations offered a subtle reflection of her diverse background, a collection she is proud of. With a natural ability for creation, Haran-Leonardi shares how the North Fork landscape motivates her work.
Bronx-born and Valley Stream-raised, Haran-Leonardi chose science and biology as her course of study at Marymount Manhattan College. Anatomical drawing was an encouraged course, something she found exciting. An eagerness to learn and do more allowed her to take various art classes in other city schools, leading her to earn two degrees. Finding encouragement from a mentor, mixed media artist Carmen Gauci, Haran-Leonardi found she was paying her way through school mostly with her own artwork.
“My work is very different now,” the artist explains. “I was doing a lot of anatomical-related work, things that have more of a harder edge. When I moved to the beautiful North Fork with a farm behind my home in Laurel and Peconic Bay right there, everything was so beautiful and magical to me. Without setting out to do so, I gravitated toward landscapes with a little fantasy.”
Haran-Leonardi previously continued to work on art while teaching high school biology. She made connections in the art world and spent summers focusing on her craft. With her son severely impacted by autism, she gave up teaching and switched mostly to art. In 1995 she focused on acrylic paint over watercolor and began creating much larger pieces. The pieces created in her small studio were sold through different galleries, and in 2012 Haran-Leonardi decided to try a new model by combining her own studio and gallery space on Main Street in Greenport. Having never really gotten to know the people her work had been sold to before, this venture had a profound impact on her work.
“When the tall ships were in Greenport I really tried to study, paint, and draw them,” Haran-Leonardi recalls. “People were very interested in boats and how they were made. I had some really wonderful conversations, which sparks new work.”
These conversations with those that walk into her studio have been the inspiration behind many new pieces and commissions. A current fan-favorite is Haran-Leonardi’s mermaid paintings, something that she has found to be an important symbol for many women. Women close to her, like her daughter, sister, and even herself, have served as muses for these mythical works. A love of the North Fork’s working waterfront has also piqued a new interest in her personal life – fishing. Joking she has become a crazy fisherwoman after she and her husband bought a small vessel last year, she has used her catch to create a new series of watercolor fish. On an upcoming trip, she hopes to catch a blackfish.
As any artist will share, the process of creation varies. For Haran-Leonardi, she likes to set out in the early mornings or early evenings when the light is just right to take photos of her subjects on both land and sea. Later she heads to the studio with her ideas and composes the structure of the painting on a computer. With a print out in hand, she sets to work. Often times, Haran-Leonardi will work on several pieces at once within the same genre.
As for what’s next, Haran-Leonardi has a few ideas. “There is this surge of farm-to-table on the North Fork and a lot of livestock,” she says. “I would love to concentrate some work on the animals here and expand to others we don’t notice, like those that show up in wildlife rescue. That would be a benefit show when I have enough work.”