The word organic means different things to different people. To the gardener it means compost heaps. To the chemist it means carbon compounds. To the artist Fabian Peña, it means American cockroaches, those chunky nocturnal charmers often seen skittering around drainpipes or on the street. “I have collected cockroaches from many different places,” Mr. Peña said. “From Cuba, Mexico, Miami, Houston, everywhere I travel.”
He kills the cockroaches with a spray, pops them into a jar, takes them back to his studio in Florida, and then puts their parts to work in his art. He glues their legs together into long, lacy cylinders that look like giant larval casings. He arranges their wings into medically precise images of a human skull, foot bones and hand bones, all scaled to his own head and appendages.
Mr. Peña likes the medium of cockroach aesthetically, the way he can use the different tones in the wings as his palette to convey light and shadow. He likes it metaphorically, how we are disgusted by something with which we have so much in common — the same taste in foods, the same easy adaptability to every possible niche. “Cockroaches are a witness to our daily lives,” Mr. Peña said. He also likes his medium pragmatically. “It’s a material that I can easily find,” he said, “and it’s cheaper than buying paint.”
Mr. Peña is among the growing ranks of artists who have gone natural, who are scavenging the world’s vivarium and rummaging through the life sciences in search of materials, ideas, cosmic verities, tragicomic homilies, personal agency, a personal agent, a way to stand out in the crowd.