Marven Clerveau : unfettered expression
A CALQ grant recipient for his most recent project, Marven Clerveau stands out for his determination and illuminates whatever crosses his path. The Montréal multidisciplinary artist of Haitian origin, who has dealt with dysphasia and scoliosis since birth, chose drawing, comic strips, and painting to externalize his struggles, express his difference, and find fulfilment.
“Lots of people had a hard time understanding me when I was little, particularly kids at school,” Marven Clerveau says during a phone interview. “The only person who understood me was my mother.” Often set apart from his classmates, he was withdrawn and had low self-esteem. He didn’t talk much, but he drew a great deal, which sparked the idea in his teachers to encourage him to take extracurricular workshops. “That’s where it all started,” the 26-year-old artist says.
Taking the plunge
Engaged in an unrestrained exploration of styles and media, over time Marven saw a world of possibility open up to him. Continuing with the manga-inspired illustrations he spent his time on, the artist gradually developed new techniques, including pastel drawing and acrylic painting. At the same time, he built his confidence and recognized his own talent.
A few years later, as he was making the transition to adulthood, Marven took a workshop on artistic exploration with the Montreal Association for the Intellectually Handicapped. The workshop enabled him to gain visibility and meet the management of Diversité Artistique Montréal (DAM), which supports immigrant artists in their career development.
“The director had positive things to say about my work […] and he suggested I define my style so the audience could better connect with it,” he says. “After that, I got a mentorship with a professional artist, and I really put my energy into finding my identity.”
Since then, he has blended newsprint collage, pastels, and acrylics in his figurative canvasses.
A nod to Frida Kahlo
When asked about his influences, Marven answers without hesitation that Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits spoke to him, particularly The Broken Column (1944), which reflects the suffering of the celebrated Mexican artist after a bus accident. “There are nails on her skin, and there’s a sort of iron column in place of her spine,” he says. “You can see the sadness on her face. It gave me the idea for my series Scoliose.” The Scoliose series was part of his exhibition Disphl’Égo at the Bibliothèque Henri-Bourassa as part of Black History Month earlier this year. The connection between his series and Kahlo’s work is striking.
Undergoing surgery at age 10 to correct the deviation in his spine, Marven fell two years later, breaking the metal rod and landing him in the hospital for several months while his back healed.
Marven has extensively explored the themes of dysphasia, scoliosis, and childhood through his work, not only to express his difference, but also to raise awareness about people’s negative behaviour when confronted with difference. Over time, the artist has integrated different subjects to his work. “I realized that if I was defining myself only by that,” he says. “I do a lot of portraits of public personalities who I have heard speak. I also do a lot of portraits of African American people and others I identify with.”
His visions of hip hop
Marven is working on a series of 21 canvasses representing figures from Québec rap history. “Before starting the project, I didn’t know any Québec rappers,” he says. “Like a lot of young people, I was influenced by American rap. My goal is to share my research and show how rap started here […] I met with rap artists who told me their story, and that helped me create their portraits.” Marven met with Webster, Jenny Salgado, and Imposs (Muzion).
With his grant for the project from the CALQ’s Vivacité program, he rented a studio in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where he is completing the final pieces in the series. The results will be presented in an exhibition at the Phi Centre in February and March 2022.
Ever passionate about mangas, he also launched a first comic strip in 2019 entitled Dragonlier: le monde intérieur (Les Éditions Mots Roses) and is preparing the next in the series. Clearly Marven Clerveau has not yet reached his artistic limits.
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