Hanford painter sees art everywhere

HANFORD — Art is everywhere.

Hanford artist Diana Leoni learned how to “see differently,” she said, due to an influential Hanford High School teacher named Nelly B. Cook who had a motto on her classroom wall that read, “Art is everywhere.”

Leoni takes that motto into her own work, which will be shown at the Kings Art Center’s Winter Show, which runs Saturday, Nov. 17 through Dec. 29.

“Art can help educate people and let them know what’s going on and it can also preserve history,” Leoni said in an interview with the Sentinel.

It was in an effort to preserve history that Leoni and her fellow Plein Aire Painters laid brush to canvas to capture the image of Hanford’s historic Art Deco firehouse. The building was a downtown staple since the 1930s — until earlier this year when the City decided to destroy it.

“It was a work of art, that building,” Leoni said.

Leoni and her colleagues painted the building in the 11th hour after the demolition was announced, hoping to paint what they could, as quickly as they could. They captured the visage of the front from across the street while the back of the building was being destroyed. Leoni said that whenever she heard the thump of the wrecking machines hit the building, she could feel it in her heart.

Leoni’s painting of the firehouse, and many other pieces will be on display throughout the exhibit’s run.

The Hanford native has spent most of her life making and teaching art for a living. After graduating from Hanford High School, “during the crescendo of the hippie thing,” she bought a one-way ticket to Europe with the intent to travel wherever the winds took her.

Finding herself in Nigeria with her bank account depleted and not wanting to return home, she decided to get a job teaching art at a local school – but she enjoyed it so much she ended up staying in the African country for nine years.

“Turmoil was just starting in that country, but it wasn’t too bad. It was a lovely place to live,” she said.

When she returned to America, she earned a Master of Arts degree in African Art History from The University of California, Los Angeles.

Afterward, she taught local teachers how to include art into their regular curriculum. She said that she believes when students draw something they’re learning about in science, or turn a history lesson into a song, they’ll retain the information better.

“You can teach anything through art,” she said.

In addition to painting and pottery, Leoni also teaches yoga.

While the artist began in the medium of pottery, she has since changed her focus to watercolors, which is what she’ll be showing at the exhibit.  She said that if her time studying Africa art has influenced her, it’s in the motion of her painting.

“My art has a lot of movement and rhythm and I attribute that to the African influence,” she said.

The artist said that even now, her art is always evolving and it’s that progress and change she hopes to show in her work at the Kings Art Center.

“I just feel like I’m on this incredibly expanding motion with art and where it takes me, I don’t really know but I’m really enjoying it,” she said.