4-H was a big summer activity in my rural hometown in the 1980s. While other fourth-graders raised calves, rabbits, poultry, and other farm animals, I hunted bugs. To this day I know the common names of a large number of insect species found in northern Michigan.
I obtained this knowledge by chasing down field and forest critters that most people avoid touching. I captured them with a big white net, then either freezed or asphyxiated them with isopropyl alcohol in a mayonnaise jar, before finally affixing the corpses to a styrofoam board with very thin, black pins. This was 4-H Entomology.
Besides the brutal, Victorian-era science lesson, this summer activity gave me an appreciation for insects—their vastness and varieties and even their beauty. I found this mostly with butterflies and moths, some fierce-looking beetles that had their own aesthetic plusses, but I largely ignored the more common insects. Ants, sawbugs, weevils, and especially common flies had no place in my collection. Anyone who wanders into Paxton Gate on Mississippi Avenue and examines its collections knows that a housefly as an artifact is not commonplace. Certainly not a single housefly…but what if it were thousands of flies?
I saw something recently at the Maker’s Dozen show at Peoples Art of Portland that piqued my long-dead entomological interest—oil paintings by Sharden Killmore that feature designs made with thousands of dead files. Take a close look at the image above. The bodies of the koi. Yup. Flies. Bluebottle flies. Protophormia terraenovae to be precise. Killmore, who lives in Eugene, raises lizards and for years bred flies and other insects as lizard feed.
One night in an altered state, Killmore had a vision of his own death, he said, the most gruesome death he could imagine, one with maggots covering and consuming his eyes and hatching into flies. From this the idea to use flies in his art came to him. The result is a collection of beautifully arranged fly carcasses, their blue, metallic abdomens shining behind glass and against a black background.
Killmore’s collection ranges from the serene to the violent with peaceful koi (flies representing the fish’s scales) to soldiers with flamethrowers (swirls of flies as the flames).
— Ross Blanchard