“My chief objective in working with obscure organisms is to foster a deeper appreciation for the masterful design found everywhere in the natural world,” says artist Christopher Marley. “For this reason, I consider myself more of a designer than an artist, more of a megaphone than a storyteller. So much of nature’s story is yet unheard. I hope to help it ring more clearly.” His works (on offer on Gilt Home, starting today), displaying everything from butterflies to beetles (exquisitely mounted in museum-quality shadow box frames), makes that point loud and clear. They’ll add plenty of depth, soul, and visual interest to virtually any space.
We got up close and personal with the artist, and came back with plenty of tips, thoughts and inspirations:
What’s your background? Did you go to art school or did this come naturally? I have been an avid naturalist and artist from my earliest memories. My days were spent either exploring the outdoors in rural Oregon, studying about or searching for reptiles or drawing and painting. Fantastical creatures — anything sublimely dangerous or exquisitely rare or mysterious — were what filled both my mind and my sketchpads.
Why bugs? You could be painting lovely seaside landscapes or fruit still-lifes! Seriously, tell us what fascinated you about the topic you’ve chosen to hang your hat on. It is true that my current work started with insects and that they remain what I am most known for (even though they are not the preponderance of the natural artifacts I work with). However, when I began to discover unimaginable insect species in my travels, they became to be the embodiment of all the enigmatic beauty I had tried to capture in my art for decades. Having studied design and having spent over a decade in the fashion world, I was very attuned to sleek, minimalist, architectural design elements, and I discovered that insects were the ultimate embodiment of those elements.
What are some of your favorite pieces in the sale (and why)? That is a tough one. I am thrilled to be offering a few of my most popular and limited insect compositions. They are a rare representation of some of the most brilliantly adorned creatures on the planet. However, right now I am also excited about my Reclamation work. I thrill at every opportunity to create out of the unfortunate losses of zoos, museums, breeders, etc something that will inspire for generations. The work I do with vertebrates is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding. I would have to say there is one snake and one bird I am most excited about – but I won’t give away which. I’ll just bet they are the first to go.
How can people incorporate this stuff into their decor? They might be scared at first … what tips do you give people re how/where to hang? I always answer this the same way – if it speaks to you, if it moves you, if it inspires in you greater appreciation for the marvelous natural world in which we are so fortunate to live – own it and don’t give a rip about what anyone else might think (though I will say that my patrons are almost always surprised to find that they are not nearly as “unique” in their tastes as they might have thought!). Ask others what they think about your paint color or wallpaper, but if you are choosing your art by committee – you’re not choosing art.
Our customers are obviously concerned about humane treatment of animals and insects, as we know you are too. Talk about that aspect. Everything I do in my work with insects, reptiles, birds, fish, etc has either an environmentally advantageous or at least neutral effect. Most people understand that my birds, fish and reptiles all die of natural causes and are sent to me for preservation by the individuals and institutions that work with them as an alternative to disposing of them. I feel – and I hope my patrons do too – that my work is a vastly superior alternative to rotting away in a landfill. However, some people do not understand insect ecology. They do not understand that the only way that insects survive in spite of being preyed upon by nearly every other animal species, is by breeding so prolifically that they simply outnumber their predator’s ability to eat them all. The only way insect populations are significantly affected by humans is in the destruction of their habitat. Quite frankly, there really is no such thing as an endangered insect – only endangered insect habitats or host plants. As the bottom of the food chain, insects already feed the entire forest, so insect collectors running around with nets could never hope to compete with a jungle full of organisms all feeding on the same species. But when an insect’s ability to reproduce is reduced because its host plant is cleared or its environment is eliminated or contaminated, an entire species can be lost in a single season. On the other side is mankind – most often indigenous people who also have to eat and to feed their families. More often than not, their options are to clear the land for development or to plant crops, to ranch, to log – all of which decimate insect (as well as other animal life) populations. Or they can find some way to make a living off a healthy forest. Insects are one of those elusive “rainforest crops” that are both sustainable and renewable. It can help to reverse some of the economic pressure to clear pristine habitats for development when people can make a living collecting them. A worldwide trade in insects has already been truly beneficial to the preservation of several rare insect species because the preservation of their habitats was justified by the money earned through the capture and sale of common insect species that inhabit the same area. In Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Peru and in many other parts of the world, insect collecting has been proven to be a useful tool in balancing the needs of man and nature.
What are your favorite places you’ve traveled to in search of specimens? In Trusmadi, Borneo, I have a friend who runs a camp where each year, newly discovered species are described. It never ceases to amaze me. In some areas near Huanuco Peru, the butterflies are so plentiful, you don’t even need a net to capture them. And in Costa Rica, the night collecting can bring in creatures that are beyond the wildest dreams of the uninitiated. These three locations are probably my favorites.
Are there any particular countries or regions that have the most interesting (or most diverse) selections? If you go by countries, you can’t beat Indonesia. With tens of thousands of islands, many of which are home to endemic species or color forms, the variety is truly endless.
— Stephen Milioti