Six month artist residency at a herpetology lab summed up in two minutes

It’s such an honor to be warmly welcomed into a science lab to share their findings about our impact on this world through my visual interpretation. Here’s six months of work as an artist in residence at The Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab summed up in under two minutes.

Thank you to everyone at the lab, Pitt Bio OutreachThe Maker’s ClubhousePittsburgh Parks ConservancyFrick Environmental Center and Presented by Jeffrey Jarzynka for making this project a success! And thank you to Elizabeth Craig Photography for capturing the adventure in this video.


Artist talk July 19

Ashley Cecil's artist talk, July 19, 2018

If you weren’t at the opening reception of my exhibition Edged Out, you missed one hell of a celebration. Over 250 art and nature lovers packed the world-renowned Frick Environmental Center to see how art inspired by science can be a powerful conduit to knowledge.

On July 19 at 7PM, I hope you’ll come learn about my immersive six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Lab during an artist talk at the Frick Environmental Center. Both the principle investigator of the lab, Cori Richards-Zawacki, and I will be giving a light-hearted presentation about our collaboration (no PhD in biology required). You’ll get a taste of Cori’s scientific research and how that work inspired the paintings and sculptures in the exhibition.

If you’re not able to attend the talk or see the exhibition, you can view the available artwork here. You also can learn about the project through the wonderful press coverage we garnered – my interview on the environmental radio show The Allegheny Front is possibly my favorite.


EDGED OUT: An exhibition of work from an artist residency in herpetology

Artist Ashley Cecil announces her latest exhibition Edged Out

For the last five months I’ve either been in a science lab or my studio. On June 28, I hope you’ll come celebrate the light of day with me at the opening of my latest exhibition, Edged Out.

The exhibition is a series of paintings and sculptural works about human influence on nature. The artworks specifically focus on the vulnerable state of amphibians, a modern canary in the coal mine offering us a prophetic glance at what lies ahead for all inhabitants of an ailing environment.

These artworks are visual translations of research conducted by the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. During my six-month artist residency at the lab, I’ve immersed myself in scientific topics represented in this exhibition, such as habitat loss, disease and conservation methods.

Please RSVP here for the opening reception June 28, 6-9 PM.
A public reception will follow. The Frick Environmental Center is located at 2005 Beechwood Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

Until then, get your fix by perusing this photo archive of the residency unfolding…

Ashley Cecil shares her artist residency at a herpetology lab on Instagram


Updates from an artist residency in herpetology

Move over canary in the coal mine. Amphibians are an understated climate bellwether deserving of the spotlight in my current artist residency. Now two-thirds of the way through my post at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh (or RZL), there’s plenty to share about how I’m using art and STEAM education to communicate plight of amphibians, such as habitat loss and disease.

One of my favorite works-in-progress is the painting above.  This small study was inspired by the lab’s research on a fungal pathogen nicknamed Bd, which causes the often fatal disease chytridiomycosis or chytrid. Chytrid is threatening frog populations globally at an alarming rate and in many cases is causing extinctions. The issue is becoming so pervasive it’s getting picked up by mainstream media. For example, researchers at RZL recently had an article of the topic published in Science, which in turn was reported on by The New York Times, The Atlantic and others.

Diving this deep into herpetology as the subject of an entire body of artwork has only been possible by embedding myself in the lab, interacting with the researchers as they “do science” (such as Veronica Saenz, above, who is researching how climate change affects Bd). One of the most useful experiences has been participating in lab meetings where scientific articles are discussed and presentations are rehearsed. Four months in, I’m proud to say I’m now capable of getting through a lab meeting without having to use the dictionary app on my phone.

Other paintings I’m working on focus on habit loss and fragmentation, last-ditch conservation practices, and, as shown in the teaser above, a nod to local species that includes visualizations of their calls (spectrograms) and flora of their native habitats.

Once again, folks in the lab provided the inspiration for this painting. I stumbled across spectrograms of frog calls while sharing desk space with a member of the lab who was reviewing audio clips from his laptop. I couldn’t help but ask what he was working on. When he showed me his screen, the spectrograms immediately reminded me of an ikat pattern, a perfect visual to add to one of my canvases.

As with my residency at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, this project also has involved more than creation of my own work. For example, this go around I’ve tried to connect other professionals interested in working across disciplinary lines in hopes of sparking new collaborations. And so I recently gathered over 40 artists, scientists, museum administrators and educators at my studio for a drawing session and mingling.

The idea for the event took shape after I noticed a pattern among the friends I’ve met during my cross-disciplinary projects – scientists sheepishly confessing they love to make art, and more and more artists concentrating on climate change and science as the subject of their work. It seemed worthwhile to bring them together to exchange business cards while laughing about non-dominant hand and blind contour drawings. Although the latter two exercises broke the ice, the most engaging exercise was putting everyone in pairs to recreate a single drawing together. That sounds easy, but only one person was doing the drawing and he/she could not see what was being drawn. The second person orally instructed the first on how to make the drawing. Everyone in the room was smiling ear-to-ear (well, except for the sleeping baby).

There’s plenty more from this residency in the works that I’ll share in the coming weeks – adventures in educational outreach, my foray into steel sculpture and plans for an exhibition in June. Stay tuned.