“I’m scared of bugs,” admits Chere Strain, surrounded by once living insects she’s incorporated into works of art.
While Strain may not suffer from entomophobia (fear of insects), there are some bugs she considers “creepy.”
“Things with fangs and big teeth and long legs, and things that can hold onto you,” Strain explains from her living room.
Yet, in a nearby terrarium sits Charlotte, a pet tarantula who has been with Strain for 17 years. And then there’s the decor. On the wall over a fireplace there is a large praying mantis, a locust, a water scorpion, a cicada, a harlequin beetle and a Madagascar tiphiid parasitic wasp and other insects, pinned and artistically framed by Strain.
On the dining room table by Charlotte is a diorama of a rhino beetle playing a grand piano, with a jewel beetle in tiny cuff links beside it singing into a microphone, all lit by a tiny chandelier. Titled Rhino Blues, the piece is one of about 15 dioramas Strain has created featuring a mix of insects and miniatures.
Though uncomfortable with living bugs, Strain is also fascinated and inspired by them.
“I didn’t appreciate everything that we had on the planet when it came to insects until I started doing this,” said Strain. “There’s so many different creatures, so many different insects. Some of them have really cool iridescent wings, some of them have clear, see-through wings, some of them have dark wings.
“There’s just so much colour and so much vibrancy. A lot of these guys have wings tucked underneath and you never get to see them. Some of them actually have little tiny hearts on their legs. Weevils have little tiny hearts, two or three, on each of their legs. I would never have known that… without working with them myself.”
Strain’s passion for working with postmortem insects (she refers to herself as an “insect mortician” on her social media accounts under the name Creepin’ It Real) began last year after she and her daughter attended a butterfly pinning course taught by Vancouver’s Pretty Dead Taxidermy at Wild Craft Mercantile in Salmon Arm.
“We thought butterflies are simple so… We just framed them and I loved them,” said Strain. “Here’s another class coming up with scorpions. So I did a scorpion pinning class and I decided I didn’t want to put my scorpion in a frame, I wanted to put it in a chair. So I got a wingback chair for him…
“I put him in that and thought, now he needs a place to sit, to have this chair, so then I made this whole bug house based on this scorpion sitting in a wing-back chair, and took it away from there.”
Strain also loves miniatures and incorporates them into her work. Some she purchases, others she makes herself. One of her pieces made for a friend has a rhino beetle sitting on a wingback chair, eating Doritos and watching scenes from Back to the Future on a miniature, operational TV.
“I made the chair, painted the chair, handmade the carpet, laid all the flooring with different materials, and then I thought, it has to have something else, so I added a bag of Doritos and I hand cut all the Doritos and painted them,” said Strain of the effort.
Strain worked 12 days straight on another diorama for her son’s birthday. This highly detailed video game-themed work includes a beetle holding a joystick, seated in a gaming room filled with game consoles and pop-culture paraphernalia. The diorama also features a functional screen that you can play video games on. Though Strain’s son also isn’t crazy about bugs, “he absolutely loved it!”
“When this bug thing happened I thought, why does it have to be plain, why does it have to just be in a frame, why can’t it be something better?” said Strain. “Why can’t it be something that stands out?”
Strain sells her work through Creepin’ It Real, and will make custom insect-oriented artwork on request.
Strain confessed she didn’t think of herself as an artist until she was told otherwise.
“I didn’t even know that – to me it wasn’t’ the same,” said Strain. “My aunt’s an artist, she’s a canvas artist, so she paints and stuff. That’s what I thought art was. It wasn’t until last year, my aunt was like, ‘You are an artist, you do realize that? But this is art so I guess now I’m an artist.”
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