We stumbled upon the work of Christopher Marley while at High Point Market this year and we’re sure glad we did. His Pheromone collection incorporates everything from insects, fossils, crystals, and even feathers. For 15 years, he has been collecting and arranging these pieces by hand. Each insect or object is laid out symmetrically and become studies in both color and scale.
Marley agreed to answer some questions about his work and the subject matter that he’s inspired by:
What drew you into the subject matter?
I started out working with insects and my fascination with them grew out of a lifelong phobia of them. Of course, I have now overcome it (with a vengeance!) but I used to travel extensively as a print and runway model and, being quite a nature buff, I was in the jungles every chance I got, usually looking for reptiles. The insects were my bane however. One day in Thailand I decided to face my repulsion head on and carefully observed some beetles. I shortly fell in love with them from a design perspective – so functional, so minimalist, so exquisitely adorned. Soon my phobia switched polarity and I couldn’t get enough of them.
What made you transition from a love of insects to creating these pieces out of them?
I studied design at BYU and knew I wanted to work in that field. My subject matter of choice was always either some fantastical, macabre creature or something sublimely minimalist and sexy (it was the 80s and Patrick Nagel was one of my heroes). Insects at first, then the rest of the natural world, became the embodiment of all my design aspirations. When appropriately composed, I think that nature’s designs are impossible to supersede.
Where do you find all of the insects and butterflies?
I do a lot of travel myself to dive and catch a small percentage of the materials I work with, but the vast majority come from my catchers, fishermen, miners, and paleontologists all over the world. Chiefly in SE Asia, especially Indonesia, Borneo, Thailand, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, India, and Japan. I co-own a facility in Kuala Lumpur where much of my insect work is centralized.
The second most prolific region is Latin America. I spent two years in Chile and also have traveled throughout Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, and Brazil. There is some gorgeous material I use from Argentina, Guyana, French Guiana, and Paraguay as well.
Africa is kind of a distant third region with a few very noteworthy insect species and minerals that come out of Morocco, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Cameroon, Rwanda, and South Africa.
Beautiful insect species and a few fossils in Southern and Eastern Europe are actually quite abundant as well, so I work with some from France, Spain, Turkey, and Macedonia.
There are a few endemic species I use from Australia but the least region, believe it or not, is North America. I do collect a few fossils, minerals and insect species here, but I am a sucker for the exotics.
What made you choose to display them how you do?
I think all artists and designers struggle with knowing when to quit adding themselves to a particular creation. Apart from imposing some order on the natural artifacts I work with I always strive to create an environment where the specimen(s) can tell their own story. I find it is usually much more interesting than anything I can add.
How labor intensive is the process from start to finish?
My pieces range from extremely simple to rather ornate, so the process can take anywhere from an hour to weeks depending on the piece. However, as order, structure and perfection in wild nature is my trademark, even the simplest pieces can be deceptively complicated.