Lily Simonson

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Artist Biography

My psychedelic fleshy paintings revel in the bizarre architectures and behaviors of deep sea organisms, positioning them as emblems of discovery and connectivity. My artistic interest in the deep sea began with the yeti crab, whose mythological name, bizarre appearance, and fascinating physiology easily captured the imaginations of myself and my audience. It soon became clear that the biological truths of this fantastical organism was stranger than any human fiction, and the science itself emerged as a central subject and expanded my work to include a range of scientifically significant deep sea organisms.
Crimson-plumed Freudian tubeworms, magnified to human size, eyelessly return the viewer’s gaze. Biomorphic carbonate structures, formed by microbes-cum-sculpturs thousands of feet deep, contort in uncanny dreamscapes. Ethereal winged mollusks, glowing fish eggs, fluorescent submerged glaciers, and gestural expanses of color appear and dissolve through lush, translucent glazes. Hovering between the familiar and the unknown; depth and flatness; clarity and disorientation, my work tugs at the familiar tension between figuration and abstraction. In painting newly-discovered species and phenomena, I invoke the history of artists and scientists working in tandem, while mining the organism’s unfamiliar morphologies for contemporary painterly investigations.
As an artist-in-residence on nearly a dozen research expeditions, I have made art in tandem with scientists aboard oceanographic vessels at deep-sea hydrothermal vents, while 3000 feet below the ocean’s surface in the research submarine Alvin, and while scuba diving beneath the world’s largest expanse of sea ice in Antarctica. Once characterized by isolation, these unique ecosystems face increased connectivity as a result of human activities. Though such extreme worlds have never supported a native human population, they are paradoxically vulnerable to Anthropocene-induced collapse. Directly contributing to scientific fieldwork provides me with unique insight into my subjects. Bridging art and science allows me to invite audiences to connect with the deep sea on both a cerebral and emotional level. In this way I hope to inspire excitement for deep sea biology and stewardship of that precious environment.


Venus at Her Mirror, East Pacific Rise, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 60×84 inches

Posts about Lily’s works soon!