Alan Wheatley Art

Kenneth Armitage Artist Biography  British, 1916-2002

Kenneth Armitage is one of the most significant British sculptors of the 20th century. In the elongated, fragile forms of his work, his overriding concern was always with humanity; a preoccupation with feelings expressed through the language of the body. The figurative image of man remained central to his work, and his departures into the world of non-figuration were always of short duration.

Born in Leeds of Yorkshire/ Irish descent, Kenneth Armitage was influenced by both the Yorkshire landscape and visits to his mother's home in County Longford, in the Irish Republic. Nature played an important part in his early stylistic evolution. Later the Egyptian and Cycladic sculpture in the British Museum was another formative influence.

A scholarship took him in 1934 to Leeds College of Art, where Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth studied before him. In 1937, Kenneth Armitage went on to the Slade school in London, where he received professional training in sculpture and, influenced by Brancusi, saw himself primarily as a carver, a notion he was later to reject.

During the war Kenneth Armitage served in the army, and subsequently taught at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham. At the end of this period he destroyed all his pre-war carvings. He was beginning to make groups of figures in which a flat membrane envelopes upright or buttress supports. Two Linked Figures, People in a Wind (1950), now in the Tate, London, and Friends Walking are fine examples of his most fecund and arguably most expressive period.

Kenneth Armitage began to exhibit and gain recognition comparatively late into his career, when he was 36. He was reluctant to show his work before he was more confident of the direction he was taking. But after his first one-man show, at Gimpel Fils, London in 1952, his reputation quickly gathered momentum and was consolidated six years later at the 29th Venice Biennale, where he won the prize for the best British sculptor under 45.

International status of Kenneth Arnitage had been further established in 1956, when he won first prize in an international competition for a war memorial for the town of Krefeld in Germany. From this period, Kenneth Armitage showed regularly both in London and New York. In 1953, Kenneth Armitage took up the Gregory Fellowship at Leeds University.

Later, in the 60s, his sculpture would gradually become more plastic, massive and less frontal. He also began to model in clay in preference to plaster. From 1960 to 1963, Kenneth Armitage worked intermittently on a project for the central façade for the Chateau Mouton Rothschild, near Bordeaux, France. He was visiting professor at the University of Caracas, Venezuela, in 1964; at Boston University, Massachusetts, USA in 1970; and visiting tutor at the Royal College of Art, London from 1974-79. In 1969 he was awarded a CBE.

In this later period, Kenneth Armitage became involved with experiments in the conjunction of drawing and sculpture through the use of silkscreen and bromide images mounted on simple shapes and by the juxtaposition of small plaster figures and graphic backgrounds.

Kenneth Armitage continued to exhibit internationally throughout the 1980s. He held a large retrospective at Artcurial in Paris in 1985, exhibited at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1996, and at the Millennium Sculpture Exhibition, Holland Park, in 2000.

Kenneth Armitage became a Royal Academician in 1994.

 

Public collections include:
Arts Council of Great Britain
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA
The Berardo Collection, Lisbon, Portugal
British Council
Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood
Courtauld Institute of Art, London
Harvard University Art Museum, Massachusetts, USA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., USA
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Royal Academy of Arts Collection, London
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium
Smart Museum of Fine Arts, University of Chicago, Chicago, USA
Tate, London
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
Wichita State University Outdoor Sculpture Collection, Kansas, USA

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