Lily Simonson: Painting the Deep Exhibition to Open June 30, 2018 at Harvard Museum of Natural History

May 17, 2018

(Cambridge, MA) Glowing under black lights, California artist Lily Simonson’s luminescent paintings embody a synergy between art and science that reveals new ways of seeing and understanding life forms in the deep ocean.

“Being in the deep sea feels like being inside of a painting,” says Simonson, who embedded as Artist-in-Residence on three different oceanographic expeditions in the past two years, descending in the three-person research submarine Alvin. “The light, creatures, and space are so sublime and uncanny.”

Lily Simonson: Painting the Deep presents six original mural-sized paintings that literally glow with luminescent pigments and together create an immersive visual experience in which light and color materialize out of a sea of darkness, giving form to a hidden alien universe. Through her extraordinary art, Simonson envelops us in this astonishing world, invites us to share in the excitement of exploration and discovery, and challenges our preconceptions of what it is to be alive.

Simonson’s work is inspired by explorations of deep-ocean life made in collaboration with Harvard University Professor Peter Girguis. “Having Lily at sea, painting the creatures and the landscapes we study, is always an eye-opening experience,” says Girguis, head of the Girguis Laboratory in Harvard’s Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology. “Her art captures aspects and qualities that I don’t see in my photographs, or through my own eyes for that matter. It’s like seeing the deep sea—a world I’ve studied for over two decades—for the first time all over again."

Simonson’s art reflects a passion for the process of science, deep affection for the natural world, and dedication to seeking out and “bringing to light,” the beauty and mystery of places and life forms little known and rarely seen.

The exhibition opens on Saturday, June 30, 2018 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, one of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, and will remain open through May 30, 2019.

About Lily Simonson

Evident both in Lily Simonson’s process and the art she creates are the spirit and tenacity of an explorer. Simonson is especially drawn to both scientific endeavor and to extreme environments, where life’s very existence is “counterintuitive.” She relishes opportunities to create portraits of unique, and often newly discovered life forms. Simonson’s collaborative ventures with scientists such as Peter Girguis, are essential to her artistic process. Simonson has obtained the skills and expertise necessary to allow her intimate, first-hand access. She takes her place aboard ocean-going science vessels and embeds with researchers who have dedicated their lives to the study of extreme life forms and places. Working with scientists aboard research ships bound for the deep sea, Simonson studies and sketches organisms brought aboard the ship and those observed in the deep ocean with underwater vehicles. To explore the challenging world beneath the Antarctic sea ice, Simonson embraces the rigors of scuba diving in its frigid waters. 

Lily Simonson earned fine arts degrees from University of California-Berkeley and UCLA, where her uncanny paintings of marine invertebrates synthesized techniques of Abstract Expressionism, natural illustration, and Renaissance glazing. As a recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program Award, she has accompanied scientists on expeditions to the bottom of the world. She has also been an artist-in-residence aboard the research vessels Melville and Atlantis, and the exploration vessel Nautilus, where she has collaborated extensively with Peter Girguis. Her work has been exhibited across the United States and Europe, and has appeared in the Los Angeles TimesLA WeeklyMTV, Atlas Obscura, NPR, and Interview Magazine. She has taught painting and drawing at the University of California, Berkeley, the Norton Simon Museum of Art, and California State Polytechnic, Pomona.

Lily Simonson Artist Statement


About the Harvard Museum of Natural History

One of the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture, the Harvard Museum of Natural History is located at 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, Massachusetts on the Harvard campus, an 8-minute walk from the Harvard Square Red Line MBTA station. The museum is wheelchair accessible. The museum is open from 9 am—5 pm, 361 days/year. Admission: adults $12; seniors and students $10; youth ages 3–18 $8; under 3 free. For directions, exhibition schedules, lectures, and information on parking, see the website or call 617.495.3045.

# # #

Media Contact (images available on request):

Faith Sutter, Harvard Museums of Science & Culture Media and Communications Specialist 617-495-3397

See also: Press Release

See also: Press Release