Kenneth Armitage British, 1916-2002

Kenneth Armitage was born in Leeds in 1916.  He studied at Leeds College of Art from 1934 to 1937 and won a scholarship to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1937 until 1939. Armitage’s pre-war sculpture were mainly carvings, most of which he later destroyed.


During World War II Armitage served in the army and then in 1945 he became Head of Sculpture at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham in Wiltshire. In the post-war years, Armitage first modelled his subjects in plaster or clay before going on to cast them in bronze. He was strongly influenced by Picasso and Giacometti and there was a distinct emphasis on the representation of the human form. The sculptor’s first solo shows were at Gimpel Fils, London (1952) and the Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York (1954). From 1953 he was a member of the London Group. Armitage played a crucial role in the revival of a more expressionistic and new anti-monumental, post-war sculpture. He was one of eight young British sculptors, including Robert Adams, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick and Geoffrey Clarke, whose work came to prominence at the Venice Biennale in 1952. Their spiky, expressionist sculptures with their fragmented forms, encapsulated the bewildered anguish of the post-war generation. It was labelled the ‘the geometry of fear’ by the art critic Herbert Read.


In 1958 Armitage had a one-man retrospective show at the Venice Biennale where he won the David E Bright Foundation award for 'Best International Sculpture by a Young Artist'. In 1959 another retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. By the 1960s he had begun working with wax, resin and aluminium. Later he became interested in the combination of sculpture and drawing and he experimented with drawn, printed and photographic images of figures on three-dimensional surfaces. In 1969 Armitage was made a CBE and he was elected to the Royal Academy in 1994. By the 1980s his subjects moved from the figure to nature. He created a series of drawings and sculptures of oak trees in Richmond Park, London.


Kenneth Armitage developed a distinctive style which depicted figures with distorted slab bodies and elongated limbs imbued with a playful sense of humour.  He won a number of accolades and was an internationally renowned artist. He is now recognised as one of the key figures in the great renaissance of British sculpture in the twentieth century.