Stephen Charlton is having a ball as a sculptor

A mouse lies on the ground, soaking in the rays. Forearms and ears outstretched and back legs bent, this cheeky looking figure looks the very picture of relaxation.

 Elsewhere, another mouse teeters precariously on a ball and there is so much movement we wonder whether or not he is about the fall.

 These are not cgi on YouTube or a website, these are perfectly crafted sculptures; pieces of art so dynamic that you just want to touch them.

 They have been created by Stephen Charlton, a communications expert who took up sculpture only seven years ago at the age of 42 on a whim.

 Since then, it has been a hobby, something to do at the weekends or after work.

 But there is a burning desire within him: to ditch the communications industry (he owns a company called Engage 360 and works with clients such as Shell and GKN) and become a full-time sculptor.

 “Sculpture is the way to go. It makes me smile,” he says.

 “It is a form of communication, but it is a very tactile process: touching it, working with it, listening to the noise it makes. I just want to capture the spirit of it.”

 He has already caught the attention of celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin, who used one of his pieces at the Chelsea Flower Show this year.

 The 1.56m high bronze sculpture, entitled Mouse Having A Ball formed an integral part of Gavin’s Bronze flora-winning Oceanico garden, that the so-called Damien Hirst of gardening designed with Sir Terence Conran.

 “It was like a whirlwind,” admits Stephen.

 “It was an overwhelming surprise when he contacted me, asking if he could borrow the piece. I couldn’t have had a better accolade than that.

 “I felt as if I was really establishing myself as a sculptor. All of a sudden I’m in London with people liking my work.

 “It was a tough four days and people were interested in the piece, although it is back in Warwickshire now and it is for sale.”

 It seems surprising that it took Stephen, who spent 25 years as a designer and business consultant, so long to take up sculpture.

 He has always been handy with his hands. His papier-mâché totem pole was lauded for its quality when he was in primary school.

 He enjoyed art at school, but steered away from fine arts, concentrating instead on graphic design, graduating from York College of Art.

 There was no longing for a creative outlet, no burning desire to do it for years. He just did it, after seeing a piece on a day trip.

 “I saw this sculpture of a rabbit when I was in the Cotswolds and I just thought, ‘I could do that’. So I went away and did it,” he says, matter-of-factly.

 The piece still stands in his garden.

 “It makes me smile a lot when I see it from the kitchen window, when I’m washing up. After that, I just carried on. My mind goes off and I just start to create these pieces.”

 After a few years, he created a brochure and sent them to people listed in Debretts – as well as designers – with the hope they might commission him to create something for them.

 Although, Stephen, who works from his garage in Wellesbourne, is quick to point out that he is not in it for the money.

 “Selling isn’t the main thing. Of course, a sale is helpful as it gives you confidence to continue and know your work is being appreciated,” he says.

 “It’s only just now that I can say, ‘I am a sculptor’. Two years ago, I just couldn’t do that as I felt I was still playing around. I didn’t think I was worthy enough.

 “That is changing. I work under pressure all day as a designer and do sculpture part-time, but it is becoming more of a job. It is a wonderful creative outlet and it is all about expressing yourself.”

 All his sculptures feature animals, from the 13cm high piece of a rabbit covered in chocolate, entitled Basking in Chocolate, to his 2m high hare which stands on top of a fountain.

 He works in both clay and resin, using the traditional loss wax process, which creates an exact replica of the original sculpture in wax. That pattern is encased in a mould and heated in a kiln, which burns away the wax, leaving a

cavity to fill with molten metal. This mould is then broken away to reveal

the casting.

 Each one is cast in bronze and finished in a suitable patination (colour).

 This complex process takes about six-eight weeks to complete.

 Stephen says he enjoys creating animal sculptures simply because they are fun to look at.

 “Everything I create I try to do with dynamism, movement. I feel if I can make you smile inside then I have done my job,” he says.

 “I’m not doing it for the attention; I want to share my work. I’m doing it for a purpose.”

 He wants people to run their hands along his sculptures, to feel the indentations, the warmth and the cold of the metal.

 The bull in Birmingham’s Bullring is a perfect example of public art that captured people’s imagination, he believes.

 “When it first went up and it was scratched, people left flowers. I thought that was unbelievable, but they obviously felt a part of the statue. It meant something to them,” he explains.

 “That’s what I want with my work. I want people to sit on it, have their pictures taken alongside it.”

 

 

 This article appeared in The Birmingham Post in July, 2008. It must not be reproduced without the prior permission of Jayne Howarth