Salem artist and biophile finds beauty in bugs


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A local artist collects bugs from around the world and turns the dead specimens into décor, creating incredible high-end works of art.

Craftsman Christopher Marley assembles specimens of dead bugs and turns them into mosaics that make you think deeper about their beauty. (KOIN)   

Craftsman Christopher Marley selects nature’s gifts of color, texture and patterns — the design elements of organisms. He assembles them into mosaics that make you think deeper about their beauty. 

“My objective is to try and help people see the natural world with fresh eyes,” Marley said. 

Marley plucks creatures from their natural environment, reclaiming them after they die of natural causes or gathering them through insect collectors. Most of his dead insects and reptiles come from zoo, aquariums and breeders.

He permanently preserves them so they captivate and help make a connection.

“There’s a lot more than just isn’t this a pretty thing in a frame,” he said. 

He uses beautiful beetles with iridescent shimmer so dazzling it’s hard to believe this is really how they look.

Photos: Christopher Marley’s bug beauty

“I want to draw in people who wouldn’t naturally want to look at a snake or a beetle,” he said. 

Marley calls his life’s passion “biophilia” — the love of living things, a sense of wonder and the bond we have with nature. It started when he was a child in Salem.

“My father was a huge hobbyist bird breeder, so we always had dead birds in our freezer,” Marley said. “Everything dies eventually so when they do, I found that people don’t know what to do with their organisms. They’d throw them away. So I swoop in, grab whatever I could find and try to preserve them.”

After Marley left home, he traveled the world collecting bugs as souvenirs and then started creating.

He’s not an entomologist or a biologist but a self-educated artist. His materials are gathered in jungles and on tropical islands.

He takes hidden gems most of us would never see and reveals their intricacy by arranging them to bedazzle the eye of the beholder.

“I want to draw people in who don’t feel like they are necessarily already attracted to these elements of nature,” Marley said. 

It’s why his reach extends beyond bugs to sharks, birds and fish, filling a dozen freezers in his Salem warehouse studio. 

Some of his pieces were collected from road kill.

“They can either lie there and get eaten by crows or you can make something beautiful out of them,” he said. “There’s a real danger right now, these days, of our experiences with nature and frankly with each other, becoming two dimensional.”

Marley has been creating with creatures for decades and his work is in private collections around the world. It has inspired Nike shoe designs and is collected by CEO Mark Parker but now Marley is running in a different direction.

He is working more with science museums and art galleries to reach a larger audience. In October 2019 at OMSI, he will install a 13,000 square-foot exhibit of his work. 

“To me, to be able to expose people to as many different varieties of the elements of nature is really critical,” he said. “It’s such a personal thing.”

Visit Christopher Marley’s website 

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