Creativity with Insects - Elytra Part II

You've seen a brilliant green beetles (Sternocera acquisignata, find the blog post here), but there is much more diversity in color and pattern in the beetle world than can be imagined. One artist who puts these amazing beetles to good use in the art world is Christopher Marley.

Christopher Marley sits with his Pheromone Gallery in Salem, OR.

In 2014 I met Marley for a book signing at the Entomological Society of America annual conference in Portland, OR. Apparently the woman I was talking with about insects and art could feel my excitement, since she let me be the first to talk with Marley when he arrived. His presence fills the room with a booming voice and much laughter. After talking about our shared interest in the insect world's demonstration of color and patterns, he signed my calendar.

Marley has the eye for pattern, systematically positioning the beetles to create various shapes and starburst mosaics. Surprisingly, his fascination for insects wasn't always so strong. He was actually terrified of insects growing up, until he traveled to Bangkok and saw spectacular framed insects created by the local people. By viewing insects from a designer perspective, Marley began incorporating the colors into his work, and has expanded to many natural media such as reptiles and minerals. Below is one of his works demonstrating the vast differences between beetles from around the world, in colors, patterns, and shape. Nature is a spectacular artist.

Christopher Marley print from Pheromone.

The insects in his work are all real, framed as singles or in mosaics. On his Pheromone website, each artwork is accompanied by a description of the species used. Insects are either reclaimed, farmed or harvested by local people around the world. When you go to his website, you will see that he does more than just insects. All vertebrate specimens are reclaimed from zoos or breeders. All of his work is conscious of conservation concerns for habitat and animals. By reclaiming specimens, Marley provides a learning opportunity for those who gaze through the protective archival shadow boxes or flip through the pages of prints. And the original framed insects will last a lifetime. First off, the shadow boxes are sealed so other insects that would naturally feed on dead animals (dermestid beetles, they can be a pain). Secondly, the elytra coloration is structural, not pigmented, so again the colors will not fade or distort over time.

"[Insects] are the quintessential embodiment of sleek, minimalist, architectural design. My chief objective in working with obscure organisms is to foster a deeper appreciation for the masterful design found everywhere in the natural world". Like Jennifer Angus, Marley goes through the labor of re-positioning each specimen into their most simple form, usually with the legs tucked underneath for a minimalist design. This, of course, draws the eye to the individual pattern as well as the full mosaic pattern. The green to red to blue to yellow color transition of the detail below exemplify using individual specimens to create flow across the image towards the center.

Christopher Marley print from Pheromone.

His book Pheromone was published in 2008, but it was too expensive for me to purchase at the time. My mother, knowing how much I loved his work, gave it to me as a Christmas present after the conference (she's awesome). He has another book called Biofilia, published in 2015, that I am saving up for!

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