Kenneth Armitage – ‘Life and work’

by Ida Kar, vintage bromide print, 1954 copyright National Gallery
Photograph by Ida Kar, 1954 copyright National Gallery

Whilst working at Slade, linking arms and with bodies through some form of bridge fascinated Armitage (working as a way to stop arms falling off), and he drew parallels with the way in which Siamese twins are joined together.  This approach then led to pieces like  ‘Linked Figures’ 1949, a piece where the figures are all one, with arms and legs on the outside.

His work then developed into groups of figures where the main ‘body’ echoed the form of the folding screens in his studio (Standing group 2, 1952) and the silhouetted shapes of planes in the sky (an unconscious link to his aircraft identification course completed in the war), and a constant awareness of shape.

Clifton suspension bridge had a profound effect on him – suspended on chains the structure was very apparent .

clifton-suspension-bridge-bristol-gben440-view-0
Clifton Suspension bridge

Armitage initially created sculpture through carving, subsequently moving onto to creating bronze casts.  The maquette’s for his bronze pieces (created during the early 1950’s) used metal armatures, with plaster over wire netting, and scrim for stiffening the top (Woollcombe, 1997).  He began to compulsively join figures together.

Model for Krefeld Monument
Model for Krefeld Monument

He found that he could arrange the arms and legs as he wanted.  He observed that when viewing a crowd of people you do not see the individual arms and legs or actually count how many there are…

People in the Wind 1950 Kenneth Armitage 1916-2002 Purchased 1960 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00366
People in the Wind 1950 Kenneth Armitage 1916-2002 Purchased 1960 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00366

In his ‘Figures in the wind’ piece you can see 2 or 3 different influences (Woollcombe, 1997)

  1. clothes flapping in the wind – like washing on a line
  2. plant stalks upright with openings at the top
  3. membranes, screens, folds and lightweight structures
by Ida Kar, vintage bromide print, 1954
Photograph by Ida Kar, 1954


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