Kenneth Armitage’s overriding concern was always with humanity and a preoccupation with feelings expressed through the language of the body and the figurative image of man remained central to his work. Inspired by the ‘simple things’ in life; washing on a line, buildings, aeroplane wings, screens, he incorporated similar structures into figurative sculpture forming his familiar planar forms. The least ‘fearful’ of the ‘geometry of fear’ sculptors at Venice in 1952, the simplicity of his work was often imbued with a wry sense of humour in daily life. Armitage wished to convey a sense of immediacy and playfulness in his work, saying, “I like sculpture to look as if it happened, to express an idea as simply as possible.”
Kenneth Armitage was born in Leeds and in 1934 won a scholarship to study at Leeds College of Art as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth had before him. In 1937, he continued his studies at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and began to focus particularly on sculpture. This time in London was followed by army service during the Second World War after which he ran the sculpture department at the Bath Academy, Corsham.
When Armitage exhibited alongside his contemporaries Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows and others at the Venice Biennale in 1952, the group were championed as the ‘New Bronze Age’ sculptors and their work signalled a new, anti-monumental, expressionist approach to sculpture. However, where others explored new materials and welding, Armitage was of the opinion that, as bronze had been the medium chosen by sculptors for millennia, it was more than good enough for him; and he was devoted to the use of bronze for his sculptures, regardless of his contemporaries investigating new materials and techniques.
Using bronze to produce dynamic subjects became his hallmark, and the sculptures Armitage made during the 1950s, rapidly established him as an artist of note internationally. The work of this period belied an inventiveness and a desire to experiment with form.
In 1953, Armitage became the first Gregory Fellow in Sculpture at Leeds University. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s he exhibited widely and was collected by major public and private collections. His international status was confirmed in 1956 when he won first prize in an international competition for a war memorial for the town of Krefeld in Germany. Armitage was a visiting professor at the University of Caracas, Venezuela and Boston University, USA and was a visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art. In 1969, he was awarded a CBE and in 1995 was elected a Royal Academician.
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