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Inspired by Insects
BUGS IN CONTEMPORARY ART
E. Ashley Rooney
Foreword by Joan Danziger
Introduction by Barrett Anthony Klein
4880 Lower Valley Road ∙ Atglen, PA 19310
Copyright © 2017 by E. Ashley Rooney
Library of Congress Control Number: 2017939140
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Other Schier Books by the Author:
e Contemporary Art of Nature: Mammals, E. Ashley Rooney,
Foreword by Donna Dodson, Introduction by Carel P. Brest van Kempen,
Green Art: Trees, Leaves, and Roots, E. Ashley Rooney with Margery Goldberg,
Painted Sky: 106 Artists of the Rocky Mountain West, E. Ashley Rooney,
Foreword by Rose Fredrick, ISBN 978-0-7643-4961-4
Other Schier Books on Related Subjects:
Contemporary Wildlife Art, Cindy Ann Coldiron, ISBN 978-0-7643-4864-8
Inside a Bald Eagle’s Nest: A Photographic Journey through the American
Bald Eagle Nesting Season, Teena Ruark Gorrow & Craig A. Koppie,
Fruit in Graphic Art, Michael B. Emery and Irwin Richman,
Foreword: Insects in Art ......................... 4
Preface: Butterflies, Beetles, Bees, Etc.............. 8
Introduction: The Six-Legged Muse ............... 10
Barrett Anthony Klein
Jennifer Angus ......................16
Ajay Brainard .......................30
Joan Danziger ......................44
Vincent Fink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48
Wesley Fleming .....................52
Britt Freda .........................60
Elizabeth Goluch ...................66
Michael Haykin .....................70
Jennifer Herwitt ....................74
Barrett Anthony Klein ................78
Karen Klein ........................82
Steven R. Kutcher ...................84
Damond Andrew Kyllo ................88
Mike Libby .........................92
Michael Mangiafico .................98
Christopher Marley .................102
Edouard Martinet ..................106
Monica Aissa Martinez ...............108
Doug Melvin ......................112
Robert Mickelson ..................116
Alex Monroe .......................118
Dale Marie Muller ..................122
Amanda North .....................128
Keith Norval ......................130
Rick Pas ..........................132
Jeanie Pratt .......................136
Thomas C. Ramey ..................142
Joan Stuart Ross ...................148
Elizabeth Whyte Schulze .............150
Emanuel Toffolo ....................154
Andrea V. Uravitch .................158
April Vollmer ......................162
Sayaka Yamamoto ..................166
Acknowledgments ........................... 170
Artists’ Websites and Galler y Representation ...... 171
THE SIX-LEGGED MUSE
Barrett Anthony Klein
e history of humans producing insect art is rich, spanning ancient
practices through every movement in modern art history. For some
traditional peoples, insects have served as symbolic totems since
time immemorial.1 Contrast this with contemporary artists who
purposefully follow non-traditional paths when incorporating
insects in their art. Stroll any art or anthropology museum in the
world and take note of the bees, ies, butteries, beetles, and other
insects that scamper and it across the canvas, paper, porcelain,
fabric, marble, and wood. Oen, the depiction is explicit: a stag
beetle watercolor by Albrecht Dürer, insects on owers in a Dutch
still life by Rachel Ruysch, and dragonies of gold and enamel by
René Lalique. It can be more challenging to identify the presence
or idea of an insect in other works: an abstract cricket etching by
Joan Miró, and sound waves emanating from an implied insect in
watercolors by Charles Burcheld. Sometimes the art medium
itself is of insect origin: buttery wing collages by Jean Dubuet,
(moth) silk textiles and paintings, and melted beeswax in all works
of encaustics.2,3 Once you have a search image, nding insects in
the Louvre or in the latest issue of Art in America is not only easy,
it is oen unavoidable. How do such miniscule, distant relatives
make an impact on our material culture?
THE PREVALENCE OF INSECTS
IN ART AND ART HISTORY
Before addressing this query, it is worthwhile to briey identify
our subjects. Insects belong to one particularly successful lineage
of animals (phylum Arthropoda: Hexapoda: Insecta). Although
almost entirely absent from marine environments, insects are
crustaceans, having likely diverged from a common ancestor of
blind, aquatic, venomous, centipede-like remipedes.4 Unlike all
other animal lineages, insects walk, burrow, swim, and jump with
six segmented, jointed legs, and chew, suck, bite, and gnaw with
exposed, visible mouthparts. Oen winged adult insects have one
pair of antennae and an uncanny habit of insinuating themselves
in every facet of human culture.5–7
As a brand new undergraduate of entomology at Cornell
University, I was thrilled beyond belief that studying insects
constituted an actual major and professional pursuit. People took
my favorite organisms seriously. It took years before a colleague
revealed to me what should have been obvious. ere is a reason
departments of entomology exist in academia, but not departments
devoted to mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, atworms, or
the study of other animal taxa: understanding how insects operate
brings the researcher closer to knowing how to destroy them. is
is an over-simplication, but it underscores the impact insects can
have on human survival.
is book displays examples of contemporary artists’ insect-
centric works, hinting at the extent to which insects are celebrated
or vilied the world over. Arthropods other than insects also appear
in the works to follow, so insects are in good, albeit phylogenetically
disjointed, company. Although this book is unusual in its approach,
insect-themed art exhibits are not uncommon, and a number of
recent group exhibits* have explored insect themes. Although more
solo-artist, insect-themed exhibits grace galleries and museums
than I could hope to list here, I will mention two. Ilya Kabakov
devoted a series of halls to installations obsessively focused on
house ies.9 One of the artists featured in this book, Jennifer Angus,
fashions entire rooms with geometrically arranged arrays of mounted
insect specimens. Small they may be, but insects have lled many
an art gallery space.
THE CHOICE OF INSECTS AS ARTISTIC SUBJECTS
e motivations can be complicated, multi-faceted, and either
unconscious or deliberate. One artist may choose to depict an
insect with hidden symbolism in mind, while another may
spontaneously record an insect without intended meaning or
purpose. Insects evoke emotions, and responses to insects vary
depending on the choice of insect, the context in which it is
presented, and the viewer. Humans may depict insects in art for
several non-mutually exclusive reasons:
Insects (1) are unavoidably
all around us, (2) can have profoundly positive or (3) notoriously
negative eects on our lives, and (4) exhibit physical beauty and
behavior that can inspire an artist’s awe.
Ubiquity: insects are unavoidably all around us
Picture a canvas in which all life’s diversity is illustrated by images
of organisms, each of which represents a distinct evolutionary
group. If space devoted to each organism signies the number of
described species in its group, y-three percent of the canvas
would be covered with the guise of an insect. As a point of comparison,
0.3 percent would be covered with an image of a mammal and 0.6
percent a bird.11 Granted, artists depict more than earthly organisms
in their works, but should life or nature be the subject of choice,
one million described species of insects are underfoot and in-your-
face (or cave, or cupboard…) as obvious models.
If we consider the raw number of individual insects in the
world rather than the number of species, we face a staggering
estimate bandied about of ten quintillion. One million described
species and ten quintillion individual insects are potentially orders
of magnitude o the actual mark, a sign that we are surrounded
and overwhelmed by incalculable multitudes. As you might expect,
this ubiquity of insects aects human culture. A great diversity and
abundance of insects—more visible than most single-celled
organisms, more accessible than denizens of the water, and more
approachable than most vertebrates—could help explain why insects
appear as symbols in many cultures,1 and on present-day postage
stamps, currency, fashion designs, and naturally, in art. Insects
cannot be completely avoided, suppressed, or ignored.
It is easy to identify ways in which insects benet humans. Insects
pollinate much of what we consume. Insects help us solve crimes12
and address some of biology’s most fundamental questions.13 We
look to the presumed harmony and eciency of social insects for
inspiration and utilitarian planning. We eat insects, design technology
to mimic their forms and functions, use them as bioindicators, and
collect their bodily products. Silk, honey, beeswax, and cochineal
are a few of the insect products that have altered human commerce,
health, and creativity, and each is used as an art medium.2 Ten of
the Fiy Animals that Changed the Course of History are insects
and, of these, six are viewed as being benecial.14 Dependence on
and admiration for certain insects seem like ample impetus to
portray insects in art.
* Recent insect-themed group art exhibits: Art.Science.Gallery. (ECLOSION and e Buzz Stops Here, Austin, Texas, 2015 & 2013, respectively),8,3 i.d.e.a. Museum (Jeepers Creepers—Bugs
in Ar t, Mesa, Arizona, 2014), Schloss Sayn (FACETS—Bees, Art and Science, Bendorf, Germany, 2014), University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (Beyond the Hive, 2014), Augustana College
(Insects Inspire Art, Rock Island, Illinois, 2014), Alice C. Sabatini Art Gallery (UnE arthed, Topeka, Kansas, 2013), Museum Villa Rot (Hunters and Hunted: Insects in Contemporary Art,
Burgrieden, Germany, 2012), Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana (Situation Anophthalmus hitleri, Slovenia, 2012), USM Art Gallery (Engaging Insects, Gorham, Maine, 2011), and the
Observatory (Entomologia, Proteus Gowanus art complex, Brooklyn, New York, 2010)
As it is easy to identify cases in which humans celebrate certain
insects, so it is easy to consider why humans have reviled others.
One genus of mosquito, Anopheles, has indirectly served as the
harbinger of death to millions as vectors of malaria. So deadly are
some vectors that insects have been used as weapons of war, as
when the Japanese dropped and sprayed plague-infested eas on
enemies during World War II.15 Some insects pollinate crops, while
others destroy crops and livelihoods. Pain associated with bites
and stings, annoyance caused by uninvited interactions with insects,
and phobias can take their nancial, physical, mental, and emotional
toll on victims. Insects can be the stu of nightmares, some carrying
profoundly negative stigmata, deserved or not.16
Beauty and inspiration
Flowers are not beautiful for the sake of pleasing humans, but oen
to attract insect pollinators. Likewise, should any insect strike
humans as beautiful, their beauty is likely the product of evolution
by means of either natural or sexual selection. To be ashy may be
a warning of toxicity to would-be predators. To resemble beautiful
surroundings is to be camouaged, another tactic to avoid being
eaten or a means of hiding from prey. Alternatively, some of the
showiest, most colorful and elaborate of the insects appear as they
do because of selection pressures imposed upon them by potential
mates. As long as the threat of mortality is not too great, males risk
advertising their highly visible attributes to discerning females.
Warning coloration and crypsis are two evolutionary trajectories
that can make insects attractive to the human observer. Behavior
can also be a lure to the artist, who might be drawn to a dancing
honey bee, a predatory mantid, a castle of clay constructed by
termites, a beetle rolling along a ball of dung, ants waging war with
their neighbors, or a cockroach’s uncanny ability to escape harm.
Whatever the motivations artists may have had when producing
the works collected by E. Ashley Rooney for this book, the works
should not be dismissed as trivial, quirky, or quaint pieces that
happen to all depict members of an insignicant lineage of organisms.
Instead, these pieces are by artists who represent a larger community
carrying on a tradition of observing and interpreting the most
diverse and ubiquitous group of animals, important to our livelihoods,
to our culture, and to our appreciation of life.
Barrett Anthony Klein is professor of entomology and animal behavior at the
University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. The Pupating Lab is where his students and he
study sleeping insects, cultural entomology, and scientic visualization. Prior to La
Crosse, he made exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History in New York
and at Chase Studio in Missouri, and studied entomology at The University of Texas
at Austin (PhD), University of Arizona (MS), and Cornell University (BS). www.
1. Kritsky G, Cherry R. 2000. Insect Mythology. Writers Club Press: New York, NY.
2. Klein BA. 2003. Par for the palette: Insects and arachnids as art media. In: Insects in Oral
Literature and Traditi ons. Motte-Florac E & JMC omas, eds. Peeters: Paris, France.
3. Klein BA. 2015. Encaustics: repurposing the architecture of insects. Introduction to: e
Buzz Stops Here: an exhibition of encaustic artwork about the science and conservation
of bees. Art.Science.Gallery., Austin, TX, USA. http://issuu.com/artsciencegallery/
4. Regier JC, Shultz JW, Zwick A, Hussey A, Ball B, Wetzer R, Martin JW, Cunningham
CW. 2010. Arthropod relationships revealed by phylogenomic analysis of nuclear
protein-coding sequences. Nature. 463:1079-1083.
5. Hogue CL. 1987. Cultural entomology. Annual Review of Entomology. 32:181-199.
6. Berenbaum MR. 1995. Bugs in the System: Insects and their Impact on Human Aairs.
Addison-Wesley Publ. Co.: New York, NY.
7. Meyer-Rochow VB, Nonaka K, Boulidam S. 2008. More feared than revered: insects and
their impact on human societies (with some specic data on the importance of
entomophagy in a Laotian setting). Entomologie heute. 20:3-25.
8. Klein BA. 2013. Standing on the shoulders of wee giants. Introduction to: ECLOSION: a
juried group exhibition of insect-inspired art. Art.Science.Gallery., Austin, TX, USA.
9. Kabakov I. 1992. e Life of Flies. Edition Cantz: Köln, Germany.
10. Klein BA. 2007. Insects in Art. In: Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships: A
Global Exploration of Our Connections with Animals. Beko M, ed. Greenwood Press,
Westport, CT. 1:92-99.
11. Wilson EO. 1992. e Diversity of Life. Belknap Press: Cambridge, MA.
12. Go ML. 2000. A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes. Harvard
Univ. Press: Cambridge, MA.
13. Brookes M. 2001. Fly: e Unsung Hero of 20th-Century Science. HarperCollins Publ.,
Inc.: New York, NY.
14. Chaline E. 2011. Fiy Animals that Changed the Course of History. Firey Books: Bualo,
15. Lockwood JA. 2009. Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War. Oxford
University Press: Oxford, UK.
16. Klein BA. 2012. e curious connection between insects and dreams. Insects. 3:1-17.
Barrett Anthony Klein
LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN
My six-legged muse is sheathed in chitinous
armor. I am an entomologist, conducting
research on sleep in societies of insects.
Every science venture creates opportunities
for artistic expression, and each image I
selected to appear here was created on a
foundation of natural history and/or scientic
discovery. During an interim between
academic bouts of entomology, I fabricated
natural history exhibits at Chase Studio
Inc., then at the American Museum of
Natural History, roaming its half-lit halls
by night and creating insects, giant viruses,
and working in Exhibition by day.
Today, I celebrate insects through my
research in biology and cultural entomology
as an assistant professor at the University
of Wisconsin–La Crosse (www.uwlax.edu/
prole/bklein/ and www.pupating.com).
Courtesy of Dosha Klein.
Biodiversity. Color pencil + copper etching digital composite. 8” × 8”. 2008.
Mutillidae. Velvet ant parasite (Hoplomutilla xanthocerata) of
orchid bees, in Orchid Bees of Tropical America: Biology and
Field Guide (Roubik, D. W. & Hanson P. E., InBio Press, Heredia,
Costa Rica 2004). Color pencil. 6” × 4”. 2002.
Damselﬂies. Digitally painted, digital scanned composites of damselﬂy specimens; process described in Damselﬂies of Texas: A Field
Guide, pp. 22-25 (Abbott, J. C., University of Texas Press, 2011). 7.5” × 10”. 2011.
Martialis heureka. “Discovery of new ant species and subfamily” (E. O. Wilson, 2013. Letters to a
Young Scientist. Liveright Publ. modiﬁed from original version, found here: Rabeling C., Brown. J.M.,
Verhaagh, M. 2008. “Newly discovered sister lineage sheds light on early ant evolution.” PNAS.
105:14913-14917). Digital + color pencil. 6” × 8.5”. 2013.
Mantid. Mixed media (urethane, wire, acrylic, and oil paint). 3.5” long. 1998. Model perched within
the Hall of Biodiversity rainforest exhibit, American Museum of Natural History.
Thermal Society 1. Thermal
image, FLIR camera. 7.5” ×
Orchid Bees. Euglossa hugonis & E. inﬂata (Roubik, D. W. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. 77:235-2532004). Composite of two ink drawings. 10” × 11.5”. 2003.