Conceived through drawing, expressed initially in maquette, fixed in plaster and fully realised in bronze, the sculpture of Christopher Marvell is sparing in detail but fulsome in association. The solid, substantial, patinated human and animal subjects that constitute the larger part of his output manage to achieve an irresistible balance between humour and pathos, ugliness and beauty, strength and weakness, past and present, and art and craft. Bringing to mind elements of the works of Marini, Giacometti, Miro and Moore, Christopher Marvell’s broadly representational sculpture is often charmingly quirky without ever being diminished by its idiosyncrasy.
Christopher Marvell’s works impose themselves as seemingly blunt facts, but on deeper reflection they initiate a subtle dialogue that cajoles us to contemplate not only the relationship between human and animal, but also between the human/animal archetype and the human/animal condition itself. Somehow, his animals do not contain individual character, but rather they suggest the character of their species as distilled through human convention and consciousness.
Whether realised as solitary figures, as arranged groups, or in juxtaposition with the man-made, Christopher Marvell’s sculpture – which appears as if formed of the very bones of the earth – also steers us into a reassessment of our conceptions both of the ‘nature of things’ and of the ‘things of nature’. The intense patination is essentially natural, and yet it is also the product of human judgement and human promotion. Whilst presenting itself as natural; rough, eroded and aged; devoid of ‘precious’ value, the aesthetic stipulation cannot prevent our understanding that it conceals bronze as we most often conceive it: man-made, shiny, ornamental and precious. This is sculpture that appears to be what it is, but nevertheless asks what it is to ‘appear to be’ anything.
Despite living and working primarily in the south east of england, Christoper Marvell spends a good deal of time at his home in St Ives, and draws inspiration from both Cornish history and the Cornish environment. This is clearly seen in his fishermen, seabirds, and iconic Penwith birds (which combine animal physicality with distinctly Celtic mythological overtones). Christopher Marvell’s work reveals an artist with confidence in his art form and medium, and a craftsman who relishes the challenge of the foundry.
Capturing his patient observations of the natural world, Marvell’s works eliminates extraneous detail, whilst retaining familiar characteristics. His whimsical animals, birds, and figures are scaled for interiors and contemplative garden spaces.
Marvell’s craftsmanship renders the weight of bronze as light, contemporary and tactile, washed in warm opaque rose-beige or misted-grey patinas.
Soft silhouettes define the gentle curves of these minimalist sculptures, encouraging the gaze to travel across delicate surface indentations. Scratched and pitted as features, feathers and fur, the fine serrations maintain the simplicity of presentation.
Collectively, Marvell’s sculptures convey a sense of fanciful and playful intent.
Walking daily through the landscapes around the studios gives a constant focus for what I am trying to make. My sculptures have a quiet english based quality of man and nature in the way that we hear countryside through Britton or Vaughan Williams.
"We have always been conscious of the changeable climate of our sea-washed country, where the air is never quite free from the mist, where the light of the sun is more often pale and pearly than it is fierce. This atmosphere has sunk in to our souls. It affects our art as it effects our life. But it has not resulted in congenital softness of vision"
It is the business of observing acutely and recording – of searching for the line and shape and images. You have to make art from what you know about – a celebration of locality