Queens artists’ works hang in U.S. Embassies

U.S. ambassadors chose the work of abstract artists Diane Leon and John Ferdico for exhibition at the Art in Embassies Program, a global museum that exhibits original work by professional American artists in U.S. embassies throughout the world.
Ambassador David Hale chose Ferdico’s paintings Heat, Red Redondo and Contemplating the Mediterranean for the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan. Leon’s paintings, Fiesta and Red Stains in the Distant Sky, were chosen by Ambassador P. Michael McKinley for the embassy in Lima, Peru.
What the ambassadors, who had thousands of artists to choose from, did not know was that Leon and Ferdico were both from Elmhurst - and they were married.
The couple moved from Forest Hills to Elmhurst in 2002, the same year the ambassador to Estonia selected three of Ferdico’s paintings. They met in 1978 at the Art Students League where they studied figure drawing and traditional painting techniques. Bronx-born Ferdico moved into Leon’s apartment in Queens when they married in 1979.
They share a pied-a-terre in Spain near the beach, an important influence on Leon, who, as a landscape painter, bought the apartment in 1970 after a lifetime of longing for the sea.
“I knew I had to live by the water,” she said. “Seeing this beauty around me really influenced me.” It still does, she added, even in her abstract work. “It’s those colors I see in the Mediterranean; that’s what inspires me.”
Ferdico became interested in modern art during his first trip to Spain with Leon. “Picasso is one of my all-time favorites,” he explained. “I saw the landscape arch where Picasso had been, actually saw what Picasso did,” a revelation that “opened up my mind to working in a more modern type of style.” His favorite periods in art history range from prehistoric times to the Renaissance to modernity. “The Cubist period got me interested in abstract because they broke up the space. That‘s what I try to do in my work.”
Both artists began by doing representational - or realistic - paintings. Ferdico wanted to be a skilled figure drawer before he approached experimental forms. “I knew I wanted to go in that direction,” he said, “but I wanted enough technique under my belt before I made that step.”
Leon, who was born in Manhattan, pointed out that although abstract art uses basic composition, it has a different creative process. “You start in a chaotic way without any preconceptions of what it will be. When it feels right to you, then you know it’s finished.”
In addition to the Art Students League, the artists pursued different courses of study and careers before venturing into the art world. Ferdico studied music for eight years as well as jewelry design at the Fashion Institute of Technology after studying at the Art League and planned to be an architect. During his other jobs, art was “a thing that was there. An on-and-off love affair.”
Meanwhile, Leon enjoyed 19 years in the entertainment industry, helping to give bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles their start. She was also able to integrate her identity as an artist, selling paintings to her coworkers in the office. She is now the department administrator of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU.
Having exhibited work across the globe, the artists believe it is important for Queens artists to share their art with the world. “It’s important to have any artist recognized internationally,” said Ferdico. “I am a Queens artist, but I just think it’s important for any artist because the work is done to be shown.”

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