SLAB FIGURE 1961
Kenneth Armitage (1916 – 2002)
- 72.5 X 96.5 CM
- Accession number
Kenneth Armitage was born in Leeds,Yorkshire. He studied at Leeds College of Art and at the Slade School of Fine Art,London. After World War II he taught at the Bath Academy of Art as Head of Sculpture and during this period moved away from carving in stone to the practice of moulding with plaster and clay. So strong was his conviction in this change of technique that Armitage destroyed nearly all his pre-war carvings and focused on this new method.
The human figure remained a constant concern of his work and rather than observing the graceful pose of professional models, Armitage drew on the ‘everyday experience of everyday people’. His works from the early 1950’s depict figures, alone or in groups, engaged in common movement and repose. Armitage observed the horizontal and vertical experience of human beings in the urban environment and how one might notice isolated elements of a body within a group. This was reflected this in the abstracted geometry of his sculptures with the bodies of his figures becoming flat planes, identifiable by the suggestion of limbs, heads and breasts which protrude in an angular fashion from the main form.
He used this ‘flatness’ as a means of achieving a greater sculptural area without the works becoming bulky, creating a contemporary shift in style away from the curve and weight of works by artists such as Henry Moore. This style was made possible by the modelling capabilities of plaster which produced a tighter, stone-like surface when cast into bronze.
This work from 1961 is formed of a singular flat membrane which supports a head at one corner and claw-like pairs of legs at another. This may suggest a single figure lying at an angle or perhaps fragmented elements of several figures clustered in a group and part of an expanded visual plane. These abstracted elements of the human form seem uncanny and almost alien, suggesting the morphing of the human body into something new and slightly unnerving.
Armitage also commented that his taut, geometric shapes with their jagged limbs may have been subconsciously influenced by his time spent identifying aircraft and tanks during the war. These works speak both of the merging of man and machine heralded by the advancements of modern warfare and also of the sense of social unease which resonated in the post-war period.
Armitage was included in the infamous 1952 Venice Biennale exhibition alongside Reg Butler, Eduardo Paolozzi and Lynn Chadwick from which Herbert Read coined the term 'geometry of fear' to describe the particular flavour of this post-war British sculpture.
Armitage featured atVeniceagain in 1958 winning the David E. Bright Foundation Prize for a sculptor under 45. Armitage exhibited internationally until his death in 2002 and his works are held in many major public collections worldwide.