March 6, 2013

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"We live on the edge of giant, writhing oceans of life that continue to pump masses of much needed oxygen into the air we breath. Yet our life-filled seas face threatening hardships such as pollution, plastics, and overfishing."

– Cleo Vilett

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“Leafy Sea Dragon” Oil on canvas, 24”x18” © Cleo Vilett 2008

In light of human-caused environmental challenges, artist Cleo Vilett invites her viewers to take a closer look. A painter, scientific illustrator and marine biologist by training, Vilett is a Bay Area native with a passion for the natural world. Through her work, she hopes “to bring attention to marine subjects as art while promoting conservation of the world’s oceans.”

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“Large Jellies” Acrylic and resin on birch, 22”x10” © Cleo Vilett 2011

Vilett’s appreciation for the beauty of sea life began while earning a degree in marine biology. Enchanted by the intricate details of the specimens she studied, Vilett dove deeper into her exploration:

“The more I understood about the science of the sea, the more it seemed like magic: animals surviving and evolving, many of them at extreme depths, in cold and harsh darkness. And from that mysterious abyss, we witness life in its endless colors, with its strange ways of hiding, finding mates and catching prey.”

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"Squid Dissection" – Mural on Catalina Island, CA. Acrylic, 6'x8' © Cleo Vilett 2009

Vilett went on to complete a graduate degree in scientific illustration – a pursuit that she says helped strengthen her skills of observation and inspired her to combine art, science and education through her fine art career. Her knowledge of the anatomy of and relationships between marine organisms is extraordinarily apparent in her work.

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“Manta School” Acrylic and resin on birch, 10”x22” © Cleo Vilett 2010

In addition to painting beautifully detailed depictions of jellies, sting rays, anemones and sharks, Vilett has worked as an exhibit fabricator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and currently holds a similar position at the Oakland Museum of California. From her workshop within the Oakland Museum, Vilett painstakingly extracts tiny resin cup corals from handmade silicone molds and applies color to their translucent tentacles. Such a meticulous job requires the expertise of a marine biologist and the honed skills of an artist. It’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate job for Vilett.

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“Bubble Coral” Oil on canvas, 36”x36” © Cleo Vilett 2004

But working indoors away from the inspiration of the sea can have its drawbacks, and Vilett makes a point of working from real life in nature as much as possible. Through designing and painting large-scale outdoor murals, she is able to get out of the studio and into the sea air. Furthermore, by working with coastal education centers and aquaria such as the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon, CA, Vilett has been able to use her mural work to inspire students to care enough to learn more about our oceans.

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Mural for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary's Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon, CA. Acrylic, 10'x54' © Cleo Vilett 2010

For more on Cleo’s work, click here to visit her website.

Featured image (top): “Nautilus Pair” Acrylic and resin on birch, 10”x22” © Cleo Vilett 2010

By Courtney Mattison

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