Where I can produce ridiculous things, I will.” – RM
Stuffed animals, coffee cups, and merit badges aren’t usually thought of as modes of expression. That’s where Robert Marbury shines — in finding that beautiful cusp between life and art.
As I got a tour of Robert’s house, and his stories unfolded, I quickly realized that I was in the presence of a true artist, in the spirit of the bizarre. It seems not only natural, but inevitable, that he would go from working at a farmer’s market in New York to curating international taxidermy shows in LA.
When you meet Robert, and experience his work, you are struck by two things – his absolute strangeness and his high degree of craftsmanship. He has a unique and powerful trait that allows him to, not only envision completely obscure ideas but to see them through to the very end.
As the co-founder of the Minnesota Association of Rogue Taxidermy, Marbury is world renown for his unique work in the field. He recently curated an international taxidermy show in Los Angeles at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery, where his work was on display with 11 other rogue taxidermists hand selected by Marbury himself. Also in May, he traveled to London, where he presented at a conference at the University College of London, called Activating Stilled Lives. Here, alongside art historians, museum directors, professors, anthropologists, and fellow artists, Marbury shared his thoughts on breathing new life into formerly living entities.
“The conference was about how museums take their collections and reactivate them. Because most of the collection is in storage or it’s just sitting there. You need to figure out, how do you get an audience? How do you get people to come in? How do you make your exhibition new and make it feel exciting?”
You might be wondering just how someone gets involved in an art form such as rogue taxidermy. Like most things in Marbury’s life, the story is bizarre, but somehow seems to make sense.
A consummate creator, Marbury soon took the sewing skills he developed while working on his Urban Beasts, and started working on new projects. While still in Minessota, he partnered with a fellow artist named Jes Schrom, on a project devoted to documenting bathroom graffiti in cross stitch. He and Schrom would find graffiti on bathroom walls, capture the text, and then create a cross-stitch design re-imagining the text through one of the oldest forms of embroidery. Instead of the usual “Home is Where the Heart Is”, Marbury’s cross-stitch presents such slogans as “I Heart Boobs” and “Poop, I say Poop.”
When I arrived at Robert’s home for a hilarious and insightful conversation, one of the first things I encountered was his wall of commemorative plates, all featuring himself. Well, kind of. This project, one of his many, was completed over a six month period. He planned, grew, and shaved his hair in the likeness of various presidents of the United States. The portraits he then took comprised first a set of trading cards, and later the commemorative plates which now greet me upon my arrival.
After moving to New York, and securing a job at Film/Video Arts, one of New York City’s most respected and longest running non-profit film schools and media arts training organization, Marbury began making films. On the side, he picked up a job working for a Mennonite family in the farmer’s market selling pretzels.
“The cool thing is, my boss at the farmer’s market really encouraged everyone to be artists, poets, whatever. He was a poet, and his whole thing was simply, go do art! Go engage! So I ended up having all these projects while I worked there. I had a lot of people that were customers engaged in these projects.
I got obsessed with stuffed animals tied to the grills of trucks, and got really into this idea of soft, fabric, public art. I began wondering what would happen when stuffed animals went feral. This is when I started making these Urban Beasts. I would take stuffed animals and cut them up, and resew them onto a taxidermy form, and make a new animal out of it. Originally I was leaving them in parks, because I thought that was hilarious ”
Of all the things that Marbury makes and does, perhaps he is best known for his involvement in the Rogue Taxidermy arts movement. In traditional forms of taxidermy, deceased animals are carefully prepared, stuffed, and mounted for display, as close to their original likeness as possible. Through Marbury’s eyes and hands taxidermy, and the creatures he addresses, take on a new form. Marbury’s taxidermy, which he refers to as “rogue”, redefines the natural world, and in doing so, presents those who encounter his mysterious creatures with shocking, disturbing, and often quite entertaining adaptations and reinterpretations evolution best practices.
His Urban Beast Project, “attempts to document and exhibit the almost extinct plight of wild and feral animals living in the midst of our urban areas. Using adaptive skills, these beasts carve out new, natural systems of living from the peripheries of buildings, roads and parks.”
In yet another strange twist, Marbury is a vegan taxidermist. His semi-natural creations are made with stuffed animals, instead of real ones.
Eventually, Marbury moved to Minnesota, and met Scott Bibus and Sarina Brewer and the trio created the Minnesota Assaciation of Rogue Taxidermy.
“We had a show and it was pretty hilarious. She was doing really fancy and beautiful composite pieces. He was doing bloody frogs eating a finger. Really awesome stuff. We would do these masterclass game feeds, where whatever he’d taxidermy, we’d also cook. So if we did squirrel, we’d have squirrel chili. And then I’d always make a vegan mock squirrel chili, because I feel like if you’ve seen a taxidermy demo, you should have a vegan option.”
His cross-stitch project eventually led him to create his company Brooklyn Badges, which are Merit Badges for things we might not be proud to admit.
“The badges came out because I really like to produce stuff, I like being able to make stuff.”
Once again redefining the familiar, Marbury’s Merit Badges are awarded for such acts as “Drinking Alone”, “farting in Public” and “Attacked by a Squirrel”
Marbury’s Pickup Card Collection was an attempt to help people out in the unforgiving world of getting a date. Designed to be left at bars and given to the person of your desire, these Pickup Cards could be used to to lighten the mood, and get him/her to say “he gave me this cute card, he’s not evil or crazy! ”
As I prepare to depart the weird and wonderful home of Robert Marbury, I am left with the feeling as though I have just spent several hours with the real deal. A consumate creator and die-hard maker of… well, whatever comes to his mind. Marbury stands as an example of what it truly means to be an artist. He refuses to be bound by tradition, and his work defies definition. As for what’s next, who knows? But I can assure you it will be unlike anything you have seen before, or may ever see again.
I resonate strongly with the impulse to create something tangible. With the Urban Beast there to greet me in the front yard, the commemorative plates featuring presidential facial hair, the strange and daring cross-stitch, or the yoga fart badge which I have earned many times over, Robert Marbury is living proof that “if you make art part of your everyday, it becomes your everyday.”
This story includes only a small sample of Marbury’s work from which, I have selected my favorites and provided short excerpts. For more information on Robert, his life, and his unique creations, please visit www.RobertMarbury.com