Rutland Pride

Chris Groombridge’s Fine Art Sculpture

From his studio in South Luffenham, renowned Rutland fine art sculptor Christopher Groombridge produces his spectacular work, every example of which has a wonderful story behind it…

Chris Groombridge in his studio.

The catwalk of an haute couture fashion show featuring John Galliano; a West End film premiere; the lobby of Claridges; a live pop concert starring artists like Kylie or Lady Gaga; an exhibition promotion in Trafalgar Square; or even the far-flung underwater city of the Gungan species in the Star Wars universe.

Those are just a few of the places you’ll have seen the work of Rutland-based sculptor Chris Groombridge. High profile work aside though, the best place to appreciate Chris’s work is in your own home as several local families have found after commissioning the artist to create sculptures of their family, animals or other subjects.

Raised in East Sussex and with a degree in Design Representation in 1991 from what was The Hertfordshire College of Art & Design, Chris has spent much of his professional life working as a sculptor for theatre, film, TV and architecture, as well as promotional pieces for media and retail. Some of his early work included commissions seen in music videos of bands like Tears for Fears. 

Recently he was contracted to carve a 5 metre tall statue of Freddie Mercury for the We Will Rock You stage show, which ultimately went into Brian May’s garden!

Examples of Chris’s public sculpture too, can be seen at various locations around the country, as well as on a more local level (such as the portrait of HRH Prince Philip in The Oakham Memorial Orchard).

“I graduated right in the middle of a recession,” says Chris, “But I soon found some good contacts. Some of my early training was several years of working with a former assistant to Henry Moore, giving me the basics for scaling up large pieces in polystyrene”.

“Though you’re only ever as good as your last contract, I’ve now gained a reputation as a safe pair of hands for completing commercial work, for even the most particular customers (such as Disney) – work which is both varied and rewarding.”

“Running parallel to my commercial work, the more private, fine art commissions are more fulfilling; they mean so much more to clients than a simple design brief. Portraits of humans or animals, interpreted in a sculptural form, are a very tangible way to preserve the memories they hold.”

The fine artwork that he now produces takes the form of 3D sculptural pieces or semi-3D, bas-relief panels. The latter are a bit deeper than a framed canvas and a judicious use of levels within the piece encourages highlights and shadows to fall on the surface to accentuate the 3D-appearance, thus giving a real sense of depth.

When creating the large commercial pieces, Chris usually begins with a range of architectural drawings, photographs and other reference material and uses polystyrene blocks to realise the design, beginning by cutting a rough profile of the piece with a hot wire tool, then manually carving intricate detail and texture according to a client’s brief.

Typically for TV, film, theatre and live music, clients have a dedicated set painter to apply paint effects to the finished piece. A good example is the octopus tentacled set that Chris created which crept around the signage for Disney’s Little Mermaid film premiere in Leicester Square.

For his privately commissioned bas-relief panels, Chris still works from a visual, usually a good quality photograph, to create them in clay, whilst sometimes making a miniature version (known as a maquette) of the piece first.  

Each panel takes the equivalent of about two solid weeks. The clay is dexterously manipulated by Chris’s own hands, then refined using his own handmade tools to achieve both a texture (fur, for example) and the desired style. 

Interestingly, when carving large, scenic sculptures Chris tends to listen to some upbeat music – perhaps something effecting an electronic audio landscape, “with a good carving rhythm,” but his more sensitive bas-relief panels usually necessitate something a little more slow-paced, acoustic or folky.

Chris commissioned his own purpose-built studio in the grounds of his cottage near South Luffenham, adjacent to the railway line. A timber-framed building with good natural light, a log burner heating up an old stovetop kettle for great coffee, and a spiral staircase leading to a mezzanine level reading room. There are, of course, wonderful views over the Rutland countryside too.

Chris has an innate feeling of how a 3D form should look, underwritten by a knowledge of anatomy that’s crucial for any sculptor.

It’s an important skill to master, and few subjects are more demanding in this respect than horses, which are especially well-suited to Chris’s medium – the combination of a powerful but elegant muscular form is inspiring… 

“I see the process of sculpting (especially in bas-relief) any human or animal as a landscape to be explored, with hills and valleys, plains and contours. A way of mapping out its rich surface.”

Once happy with the clay form, Chris creates a silicone mould of the piece, then uses acrylic plaster or resin for the final cast.

By default, this results in a lovely chalky white colour which allows the highlights and shadows alone to bring out the detail in the subject. With the addition of metallic pigments, plus various polishes and special finishes, Chris’s work can also take on bronze or aluminium tones enhanced with different patinas.

Despite looking like they’re solid metal, each sculpture is strong but lightweight, and weighs just a few pounds, so even the largest can easily be hung on a wall.

One of Chris’s sculptures in a clean white aesthetic is ideal in an open-plan kitchen or reception room, such as a barn conversion; the larger the piece, the better. 

Alternatively, his bronzed or metallicized patinas really suit Georgian or Victorian living rooms. Some work can also be installed outdoors, as was the case for one client who wanted their young children immortalised as bronze life-size sculptures in the garden to forever remind them of just how little they used to be! 

“It really is an enjoyable profession,” says Chris. “There’s something very mindful and enriching about working in clay.”

“It’s a slow but very deliberate process and the material has terrific scope for expression. Commissions are incredibly fulfilling to do, so is the process of peeling back a mould to reveal the sculpture.”

“Undoubtedly though, the best part of the whole process is the moment the piece is finally revealed to the client. If it’s a portrait of an adult, a beloved child, or animal, it’s often an emotional reaction that makes every second of the journey worthwhile!”

Christopher Groombridge creates sculptural works for private clients typically portraying humans and animals, plus an ongoing variety of other rich subject matter. These range from £1,000 to £5,000, for more information call 07775 992056 or see Chris can also be found on Instagram @groombridgesculptureanddesign.