BoxHeart and Phipps Conservatory exhibit links nature with art
November 9, 2016 12:00 AM
Deirdre Murphy in her studio.
"Red-faced Star Finch on Purple Wreath," a painting by Ashley Cecil.
"Gyrfalcons on Gray" a painting by Ashley Cecil.
Deirdre Murphy's painting “Ricochet.”
Augustina Droze's painting “Landscape” includes birds' feathers and wings.
Artist Augustina Droze working on a mural.
Artist Ashley Cecil
Courtney Linder / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Painterly creation meets conservation as three artists physically connect the dots between nature and art in a new exhibition in two places.
Nicole Capozzi, owner and director of BoxHeart Gallery, contacted the three artists in late 2015 in hopes of celebrating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which established federal prohibitions on pursuing, hunting or killing migratory birds.
Out of this collaboration, “Ashley Cecil, Augustina Droze and Deirdre Murphy: Emergent Patterns” grew. The exhibition, which examines the collective behavior inherent in bird activity, opened late last month at Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Oakland and begins at BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield on Tuesday.
Jordyn Melino, Phipps’ exhibit coordinator, said the selection of art ties in well with the theme of biophilia, the subject of a recent talk by Ms. Cecil and Ms. Murphy at Phipps. She said she felt a connection between the women’s artwork and the gallery space itself.
“Biophilia is human’s inherent love for nature. That can be found in all relationships and through life,” Ms. Melino said.
Each artist approaches familiar subjects — flora and fauna, mostly including birds — through a different lens.
Ms. Cecil, a Pittsburgh-based artist, prefers to create her work using live sketches. During a recent residency at Phipps, she studied birds and flowers inside the Victorian glasshouse. Now she studies taxidermy bird and insect specimens at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, creating artwork supporting BirdSafe Pittsburgh, an initiative to reduce bird collisions with buildings. Unfortunately, it’s the most common way humans kill birds, much higher than hunting.
Ms. Cecil describes the pattern work in her painting as Victorian. Most pieces feature a combination of illustration and fine art techniques. Reflecting her interest in textiles, realistic flora and fauna are set against soft geometric backdrops.
Philadelphia-based Deirdre Murphy takes a more scientific approach yet still uses varying levels of rendering and abstraction to illustrate birdlife.
“I made the leap from representation to abstraction because they’re speaking the same language in a slightly different dialect,” she said.
Ms. Murphy took photographs of migratory bird flocks and for each set of wings, she made a dot on the canvas. A point cloud matrix emerged, connecting the dots and unveiling geometric patterns that naturally occur in the sky.
In “Commute/Alone We Journey Together,” purple triangles representing individual birds float above telephone wires, creating polygons and patterns.
“If I make these flocking maps, I can decode this social networking in the sky and create a geometric pattern,” Ms. Murphy said.
Augustina Droze, whom Ms. Capozzi describes as a “painter’s painter” from Buffalo, N.Y., uses many layers of paint and the movement of brushstrokes to create her work. Widely renowned for her massive mural work in communities across the globe, she lives and teaches in China.
Much of her work featured in this exhibition includes mandala-like patterns of flora and fauna, realistically portrayed in oil and acrylic on canvas.
“These are three really interesting artists paired together,” said Ms. Capozzi. “They’re doing the same thing but in different ways.”
The artists said they found the collaboration transformative. Ms. Murphy hinted that she might work again with Ms. Cecil in the future.
“Women artists are underrepresented. ... The top 10 percent are primarily male, so I thought it was really intuitive of [Ms. Capozzi],” Ms. Murphy said. “She has her finger on the pulse of a bigger picture.”
Courtney Linder: email@example.com or 412-263-1707. Twitter: @CNL_13.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.