Can bugs be art? You be the judge, after watching this report from our John Blackstone:
Christopher Marley showed us the Titan Beetle, what he called "probably the bulkiest beetle in the world, Titanus giganteus . And they are quite dangerous as well."
Where many of us see something that is ugly, even repulsive . . . Christopher Marley sees beauty . . . and the raw material for art.
"This is an interesting species from Japan that's very variable," he said of another specimen. "They'll go anywhere from a real deep cobalt blue to deep green to this real fuchsia color."
He searches the world for beetles and butterflies.
"And any time where I can get one genus of a butterfly that really has some wonderful diversity, it's just magic," he said.
He pays collectors living deep in tropical rainforests to send him creatures colorful and strange, such the weevils that come in almost every color of the rainbow. "Kind of a strange lookin' little guy," Marley said.
Then in his studio in Salem, Oregon, he carefully turns them into framed works of art.
"I want to kind of juxtapose order and cleanliness and composition with the radical diversity of insects and their colors and their shapes and their patterns," he said.
Marley's framed bugs sell for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. And yes, they're real bugs. "The colors are unenhanced," he said. "We don't mess with the colors at all."
He does preserve the bugs, to make sure they'll last pretty much forever. He demonstrated for us how hell spread out a bug, pin it, dry it in the position it's to remain in, and then is hermetically sealed. "And it is good for the rest of eternity," he said.
In their sealed frames, they become bugs guaranteed not to bug you.
"You know, the problem with insects is they're always popping out where you don't expect them, you know? They're always surprising you and being in places where you don't want them."
Marley was phobic about bugs growing up. I mean, the first half of my life, I could not stay far enough away from bugs!"
Working as a fashion model for a dozen years, Marley traveled to a lot of exotic locations . . . and came across a lot of exotic insects, much to his distress.
He says what bugged him most about the little creatures were their legs:
"It's the legs that propel them. It's the legs that get stuck on you. The experiences I've had with bugs - I mean, you can't get them off you once they're on you, you know?"
But gradually he developed an appreciation.
"I started noticing them as a design element," Marley said. "And I just fell in love with them. And so that kind of real guttural, visceral reaction that I had that was negative before, became positive. And it became a real passion to display them in a way that is structural and architectural and clean and antiseptic so that it's approachable, for people like me, who was horrified of insects.
"And so, I think that's part of the reason why, in my compositions, I really try to minimize legs. I tuck everything under, so all you see is elbows, basically, throughout."
Now, perhaps it's the insects that should fear him. He may admire them . . .
"But you're killing a lot of bugs, too?" asked Blackstone.
"We are, absolutely," Marley said.
However, by paying local collectors, Marley says he's helping to protect fragile tropical ecosystems.
"The only way you can damage or really adversely affect an insect population is by destroying its habitat or destroying its host plant," Marley said. "What we do is we go in and we cull a very few specimens. And that gives an economic incentive to people to preserve their habitat. They're making a living off of the standing rainforest, instead of having to develop it to make a living. And so, you're actually preserving the species."
And for some of what he makes bugs don't have to die. He sells reproductions of his creations, and the images now adorn products like calendars and mousepads.
A thick coffee table book mixes photographs of his work with a dose of science, not just of bugs but of sea creature, shells and fossils. He showed us some brittle stars: "I just love 'em," Marley said. "They're little strange, bizarre creatures that I think people probably won't be familiar with."
The world is rich with all kinds of things that inspire him.
"And so, we're incorporating exotic crystal formations and fossils, and rough gemstones," he said. "So I want to kind of have my fingers in the entire natural world. If it's exotic and beautiful and strange and new, then it's fair game."
It's also fair game to be proud of his creations. But Christopher Marley would argue the real beauty comes from another creator:
"You know, I've kind of had this vision for a long time, of what would God's living room look like? And I imagine that he'd have these framed pieces of all his prototypes, you know, everything immaculately portrayed and perfectly clean, and beautiful.
"And I just imagine that's what I'm trying to create: I'm trying to create something that would look good in God's own living room!" he laughed.
For more info:
pheromonedesign.com - For more information about Christopher Marley and his insect art
pomegranate.com - For information on the book "Pheromone" and other commercial products
Follow "Pheromone" by Christopher Marley on facebook.com