Art

Artist turns (already dead) exotic animals into beautiful works of art

What is dead may never die. Feast your eyes on how this genius preserves the natural beauty of the departed.

Venomous snakes, rare fish, and all kinds of creepy crawlies —  these are Christopher Marley’s daily companions. But he’s no zookeeper or anything of that sort. The man is an artist, simply put, though his art is by no means typical.

“Chromatic beetles cluster like mandalas; snakes coil like intricate pendant necklaces; macaws spread their rainbow wings; and octopuses twist and curl so voluptuously, they seem to be alive,” writes Aaron Scott.

Marley’s technique is freeze-drying the creatures, preserving and arranging them against a white background, effectively creating mesmerizing artwork. He picked the idea up from his father, a breeder of Australian parrots:

“Throughout my whole life, we’d always had dead birds in our freezers all the time,” Marley says. “My dad just could not bear to throw these beautiful birds away. That’s when I realized, you know, if my dad does this with birds, I’ll bet you that most people that deal with any type of organism that they’re in love with — that they probably do the same thing.”

He didn’t wait for those people to come to him. Throughout his travels as a model, he started collecting insects, and grew a network of breeders, importers, zoos, aquariums, etc. who willfully sent him their critters.

Marley limits his acquisitions to sustainable sources. “He’s very clear that he only uses reclaimed specimens that have died from natural causes or been caught as fishing bycatch, and doesn’t buy from hunters,” Scott asserts.

His work has been displayed in fancy shops and museums, and in his own books, Biophilia and Pheromone.

“Marley might just be sort of the Michelangelo of this sort of presentation and preservation,” says Kenneth Filchak, a professor of Biology in Notre Dame.

“The greatest power of the work itself is helping people to open their eyes to the varieties that exist in the natural world,” says Marley. “Once you get this sense of, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so much more I didn’t know about,’ … it just feeds this desire to see more and more and more.”

For more of Christopher Marley’s work, click here.