Studio International

Published 24/07/2002

Kenneth Armitage died this January, aged 85. Early in his career he was tidily grouped, misleadingly, with Lynn Chadwick and the painter John Bratby, as indicative of a new direction for post-war British art. However, his invitation to join the British submission at the Venice Biennale in 1952 (by now with Gimpel Fils) enabled him firmly to establish his own identity as a sculptor. In the 1958 Biennale he was awarded the prize as best international sculptor under 45. In 1956 Armitage won the competition for a war memorial at Krefeld, Germany. In 1960 he designed a brilliant sun figure for the central façade of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild. In 1959 he had a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and this was followed by work in the New Images of Man exhibition in 1960 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was also exhibited at Kassel Documenta in 1960. Armitage’s work did not conceal a provocative sense of humour, but he was institutionally well respected. He sustained a long career through the swings of fashion admirably, and as late as 1986 he was commissioned to provide a new sculpture for the British Embassy in Brasilia. Numerous students recall his successful and popular tenure of the headship of sculpture at Bath Academy of Art. In the past decade renewed interest developed in his work, and he came to symbolise the best of 1950’s innovation in sculpture.
Armitage combined gusto and gravitas, a sculptor for all seasons.