Out of Africa

A Zimbabwean sculptor is inspired by the bush

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 2013, 5:07pm

The majesty of Africa, its remarkable wildlife and spectacular landscapes have captivated and inspired artists, explorers and travellers for generations.

For those who have witnessed big game out in the bush, observing these enthralling creatures as they laze in the shade, stalk their prey and protect their kill from other predators is a deeply moving and visceral experience.

This intimacy with the natural world sets the silver sculptures of Patrick Mavros apart. His acute eye for detail captures the very essence of the animals - their physicality and noble beauty. "You cannot design anything greater than living creatures - they are the pinnacle of design," says the artist, who transforms these dramatic scenes from the wild into jewellery and sculptures for the home.

His style is intrinsically masculine: silver crocodile cuffs, carved buffalo and elephant silver buckles, rhino and lion dress studs, and a range of silver animal cufflinks, including, in this Year of the Snake, snake and monkey models. Gift ranges include cocktail and desk items, cigar trays and a collection of delicate ladies' jewellery.

The animal kingdom is Mavros' inspiration and his unique silver sculptures appeal to a discerning clientele who either have a passion for Africa or a love of strong, contemporary art. In many ways, his work taps into our primal instincts, man and beast's quest for survival. Wildlife faces a daily battle with the encroachment of man.

Mavros illustrates in his silver sculptures the value of what could be lost from the animal kingdom unless we protect it. It is a salient thought. His love of Africa is expressed in large lamps or candelabras that may portray some of the great predator scenes of Africa.

He speaks with fervour when he describes a lamp that depicts a leopard up a tree protecting the impala it has just killed from the predatory lions below. "The lions are waiting to devour the impala - and leopard, if he loses his nerve."

A prolific worker, his estate in Umwimsi Valley in rural Zimbabwe is full of wild animals, such as giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, which he observes and draws. "It is a beautiful estate that I acquired in my early days as a sculptor and all our staff live on it."

From there, Mavros has built an international family business with his four sons that he would describe as Africa's first luxury house. "This is Africa: undaunted, unafraid, stepping into a world that has really been in the hands of the great British silversmiths, but African hands have produced this and I am very proud of them."

Mavros is a delightful raconteur, full of stories about his homeland. Tall with wild, shaggy hair and a commanding and charismatic presence, you can easily envisage him wrestling with a crocodile or handling a python. "I am an untameable spirit," he admits.

He is third-generation Zimbabwean. His Greek grandfather stowed away on a ship with his brother and travelled down the east coast of Africa, past Mozambique to Durban, and then to Zimbabwe. Born and raised in Matabeleland, he had no art training but has spent all his life close to his subject.

"Just imagine my childhood as a boy brought up in a rural environment in Africa in the 1950s and '60s," he says. "I had this wonderful life in the bush, observing and sketching from an early age. I had a deep interest in bird life and, because I was a particularly light child, I could climb trees to great heights and go out on the limbs without fear of breaking branches."

The company began back in 1979, when Mavros sold a pair of earrings, says his son Alexander, who runs the shop in London, which opened eight years ago to serve the sculptor's many British clients. "My father carved a pair of delicate ivory rosebud earrings for my mother, and her hairdresser saw them, fell in love with them and ordered a pair," he says. "Then all these other ladies getting their hair cut thought they looked amazing. Word got back to my mother, and that's how it started."

Alexander's brother Forbes, based in Mauritius, designs and produces much of the beautiful jewellery they offer today, although father still designs and makes many pieces. Forbes' delicate and refined earrings and pendants of starfish, cowrie shells and seahorses hooked onto bubbles of pearls are wonderfully feminine and full of charm. They are the perfect foil for the masculine wildlife cufflinks, elephant hair bangles and carved silver buckled belts that appeal to the hunter-gatherer instinct of their male clientele.

"We are a family of five men and we only design men's jewellery that we love wearing," Alexander says. "If we don't think it is cool enough, sexy enough or ergonomic enough, it gets chucked out."

Patrick junior, who like Forbes trained at Edinburgh School of Art, works side by side with his father in Zimbabwe, while younger brother Ben has another business, but is equally talented and intrinsically involved in the family concern.

They have a shop in Port Louis, Mauritius, and one due to open in Nairobi, Kenya, shortly, while FD Gallery in New York stocks their silver. The London flagship reflects the excitement and adventure of life in the bush, with its flagstone floors, dark wood, family photographs and Africana furniture displaying the silver sculptures and accessories.

It is a slice of the family's African lifestyle and attracts a clientele that includes Denzel Washington, JK Rowling and the Duchess of Cambridge. Clients come from all walks of life.

Alexander describes the symbolism of the pangolin, a rare, nocturnal creature. "If found, a pangolin is traditionally given to the local chief as it is believed they bring great luck and good fortune."

Spain's King Juan Carlos I has a silver pangolin on his desk and always orders one from Patrick Mavros when he goes on a state visit, as a gift from one chief to another. So bold and evocative, Mavros' work illustrates what is precious about Africa.