Ida Floreak says love of art and love of nature were always part of her life. Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she enjoyed drawing, painting, ceramics, and theater set design, and was enthralled by oceans, insects and the mathematical perfection that is the foundation of the natural world. Eventually, her two passions would merge, first in the form of scientific illustration and then fine art paintings.
“I never thought being a full-time artist was going to be a possibility,” says Floreak, who at first found a more practical career path in scientific and archaeological illustration as a student at Rhode Island School of Design. “There is the trope of the starving artist; it’s a fantasy kind of.”
Making a living as an artist would, however, become a reality after Floreak visited New Orleans.
“New Orleans felt like the perfect place to become an artist,” she says. “There is such a wonderful creativity in the air.”
After moving to the Crescent City, she made ends meet by waitressing, and then moved into set design, sometimes working 80-hour-weeks for the local film industry, while painting on the side. Today, she is a full-time artist whose work represents both the physical and metaphysical beauty of the natural world and is rendered with the technical realism of a scientific illustrator as well as the amazement of one who views natural objects as contemplative portals to “whatever is larger than us.” Influenced by the religious and devotional art of Italy where she studied for a time through RISD, she depicts objects such as butterflies, robin’s eggs, feathers, and leaves (some found during walks in City Park; all neatly catalogued in shadow boxes) with symmetry, space and ethereal background colors, which convey a reverent serenity and spirituality.
“I take that ethos [of Italy’s devotional art] and apply it to the things that interest me, so they become almost meditative,” she says.
Contemporary anxiety about the environment and the impermanence of what we once took for granted as eternal, have made the works especially evocative. The viewer, like the artist, is moved to consider the unknown — or what Floreak calls “the magic and the miracles.”
She finds it especially rewarding when her paintings inspire pleasant memories.
“Artifacts of the natural world connect us,” says Floreak, represented locally by Claire Elizabeth Gallery in the French Quarter. “I find that beautiful.”