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SHORE ART: Philippa Bentley's Insect Collections

Inspired by nature, with a twist!

Sparked by a fascination with insects that’s lasted since playing in her childhood garden, creek and native bush, Devonport’s Philippa Bentley has created a distinctive series of ‘insect collections’ presented as museum boxes.

Each insect is individually sceenprinted and then hand painted by the artist on to upcycled weatherboards or paper. The use of the timber began as a play on the 1950s trend of adorning houses with large brightly coloured butterflies and is an integral part of the work.
The images are then hand labeled and box framed as if in a museum collection.

Closer inspection shows another layer in the works as heritage brands, memories, humour and associations are incorporated in to the insects. The Monarch Butterfly’s wings radiate with the orange and red of the iconic Edmonds Sure to Rise label and the collector’s notes refer to the artist’s memories of “swan plants in summer and Edmonds flouring Mum’s apron in the old, green kitchen.”

“I’m happy if people simply enjoy them visually, but they have layer on layer of associations, references and memories in each work. They have been called ‘memory boxes’ and they are really all about memory and identity.”

The series has grown to include many of our native insects such as the Cicada which has an AM-FM radio tuner subtley drawn in to its abdomen, as the artist recalls cupping cicadas in her hands and pretending they were radios. The patterned wing cases of the Huhu Beetle show the orange and gold of Powell’s familiar reference book cover ‘Native Animals of New Zealand’. She also highlights our endangered species such as the Giant Weta (with ray guns) and Stag Beetle.

Auckland Museum has been a wonderful source of inspiration and information for Bentley’s artwork. An insight into the human input of our early pioneering collectors - some from over a century ago, and the social context of that time provided a wealth of material. She believes the specimens are as much a part of NZ’s cultural as well as its scientific heritage.

Indeed Philippa is interested in developing a whole natural history department or wunderkammer. “I’m just a little stuck on insects, the entomology section, right now!”

However with an artwork reflecting on early bird collections, Philippa won a Merit Award at the 2010 NZ Painting and Printmaking Awards for her work “Diorama- Extinct Birds of the New Zealand Bush”.

Right now Philippa is working on a range of projects including paintings and a new insect collection print on paper to be released before Christmas. It will be evocative to many New Zealanders of  the classic summer holiday. Roll on summer!

Based in Devonport, Bentley is delighted with how well the Insects and Memories series has been received. These artworks are all signed, numbered and collectable in a limited edition. Her solo exhibition in 2009 was a sell out, critiqued as “highly unusual and utterly delightful” and resulted in many commissions. Her works are held in private collections in New Zealand and overseas and she is represented by several galleries. You can also view the art at and contact the artist with any inquiries at

by Channel Editorial