Lily Simonson

Midnight Sun

April 16 – May 29, 2016
Artist Reception: Saturday, April 16, 2016, 3 – 6 p.m.


CB1 Gallery is pleased to present Midnight Sun, Lily Simonson’s third exhibition with the gallery. Simonson’s new work stems from her second expedition to Antarctica as the Awardee for the National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. The exhibition will be on view from Saturday, April 16 through Sunday, May 29. An opening reception for the artist will take place on Saturday, April 16, from 3 to 6 pm.

CB1 Gallery will host a panel discussion, Beneath the Midnight Sun: Art and Science in Antarctica, on Saturday, May 21, in which biologist Gretchen Hofmann of UC Santa Barbara and planetary geologist Joe Levy of University of Texas Institute for Geophysics will speak about collaborating with Simonson during her three- month residency on the ice.

Lily Simonson’s paintings and accompanying video installation immerse viewers in an uncanny world that is at once naturalistic and psychedelic. Through hyper-saturated canvases, Simonson magnifies the vibrantly colored crystalline ice formations, dizzying vistas, and unexpected creatures that she encountered while scuba diving daily beneath the world’s largest expanse of sea ice off the Antarctic coast. She also delves into Antarctica’s terrestrial landscape, honing in on the movement of liquid water through permafrost. Simonson worked alongside researchers who study this phenomenon to understand how water might behave on the similarly extreme cold dry surface of Mars. Invoking the language of abstract expressionism, Simonson’s works trace these water track patterns through rich swaths of fluorescent paint.

Ethereal winged mollusks, submerged glaciers, and gestural expanses of color appear and dissolve through lush, translucent glazes. Both the paintings and the subjects themselves hover between the familiar and the unknown; depth and flatness; clarity and disorientation. In this way, Simonson’s work tugs at the tension between figuration and abstraction that drives so many issues in contemporary painting. Antarctica emerges not only as a site for expanding scientific knowledge, but also for pushing the boundaries of painting itself.

Camping in sub-freezing temperatures and working alongside researchers at remote field sites, from the crater of Antarctica’s most active volcano to the glacial-carved McMurdo Dry Valleys, Simonson reframes the role of the expedition artist in contemporary culture. Combining traditions of natural illustration with figuration, psychedelia, and abstraction, she entices viewers to contemplate both the thrill of exploration and the limits of existence.

Once characterized by isolation, these unique ecosystems face increased connectivity as a result of human activities and natural geological shifts. Though such extreme worlds have never supported a native human population, they are paradoxically vulnerable to Anthropocene-induced collapse. Simonson’s work investigates these otherworldly landscapes and life forms as harbingers of dramatic global change.

In addition to her Antarctic expeditions, Simonson has also served as the Artist in Residence aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus and the Research Vessel Melville. Her work has been exhibited across the US and Europe, and has appeared in a range of media outlets, including the LA Times, LA Weekly, MTV, the Huffington Post, CBS News, and MSNBC. Simonson holds an MFA from UCLA and a BA from UC Berkeley. She has taught painting and drawing at UC Berkeley, the Norton Simon Museum of Art, and CSU Pomona.

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