Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)
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Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)

Striding Figures (Version 2)

Kenneth Armitage, R.A. (1916-2002)
Striding Figures (Version 2)
signed with initials 'KA' (on the back edge of the base)
bronze with a grey patina
58 in. (147.3 cm.) wide
Conceived in 1957.
T. Woollcombe, Kenneth Armitage: Life and Work, London, 1997, p. 144, no. KA76.
J. Scott and C. Milburn, The Sculpture of Kenneth Armitage, London, 2016, pp. 112-113, no. 76, another cast illustrated.
Venice, British Council, British Pavilion, 'Kenneth Armitage, S.W. Hayter and William Scott', XXIX Venice Biennale, Summer 1958, no. 84, another cast exhibited
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Kenneth Armitage: a retrospective exhibition based upon the XXIX Venice Biennale of 1958, July - August 1959, no. 37, another cast exhibited.
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Lot Essay

‘Armitage treats the body both as a membrane against which events happen and as a vehicle for context. This is what gives his work importance. The work functions from the skin outwards. There is little or no interiority, so in its displacement of space, the work is more preoccupied with silhouette than mass, becoming a sign or signal’ (A. Gormley, foreword to J. Scott and C. Milburn, The Sculpture of Kenneth Armitage, London, 2016).

‘Armitage seems to have an instinctive understanding of sculpture's ability to be a thing in the world and yet allude to the most fugitive aspects of human experience, the most relevant being that of our relationship to space and the elements’ (A. Gormley, foreword to J. Scott and C. Milburn, The Sculpture of Kenneth Armitage, London, 2016).

Conceived in 1957, Striding Figures (Version 2) was conceived during Kenneth Armitage’s most creative and productive period. Having found international recognition through the 1952 Venice Biennale, Armitage was awarded the Gregory Fellowship in Sculpture at Leeds University in 1953. Freed up from full-time teaching at the Bath Academy in Corsham, Armitage was able to concentrate on the development of his own sculptural ideas. He moved to a new studio in Notting Hill, which allowed him space to work on a larger scale. His works from the 1950s typically combined two or more figures in which the arms, legs and heads protrude from a flattened membrane-like body mass. ‘Their walks, their games, their dances, their common interests and their loves cement them together so that the group becomes a single multiple figure' (N. Lynton, Kenneth Armitage, London, 1962). Further recognition came to Armitage when in 1958 he was invited by the British Council, with William Scott and Stanley William Hayter, to exhibit at the XXIX Venice Biennale where he was awarded the David E. Bright Foundation Award for the best sculptor under 45.

There is a close association between Striding Figures (Version 2) and Model for Krefeld Monument produced a year earlier in 1956. Although Model for Krefeld Monument was never realised as a full-scale war memorial for the city, there is a clear link between the two works. In his notes for the Krefeld design Armitage wrote ‘a monument of this kind should have in it some degree of mystery, a looseness that is evocative and unrestricting. One has to remember that the next generation will not share the sentiments we might accept today. I saw many blitzed areas during the war. I also collected some photographs which in spite of the aspect of destruction and misery, or because of it, were incredibly beautiful. There is a visual appeal to these shells of buildings, empty boxes buttressed irregularly with a complex of jagged walls perforated with patterns of sightless windows, and aesthetic appeal charged against this tragedy. I want, if I can, to contain in my design a matrix expressive of the destruction out of which is growing a new force, a unified effort, forward looking, unburdened, expanding and energetic. The direction from war to peace, from chaos to order, to the future rather than the past’ (Tate Gallery Archives).

These almost screen-like assemblages were born out of a desire to represent the underlying structural form of the figure individually and increasingly within a group. In the case of Striding Figures (Version 2), it is clear that Armitage has developed the subject beyond Model for Krefeld Monument. Although the lattice pattern on their chests is a reminder of the horrors of war, the forward moving, upright and purposeful figures are taking steps towards the future. The relationship between the individuals within the sculpture is a positive one. There is a strength that derives from the individuals coming together rather than the threatening anonymity of the crowd. The positive energy is further enhanced by their outstretched arms, open and welcoming to all, so that the viewer is drawn into the comforting embrace.

Armitage enjoyed a retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in July 1959, organised by the British Council, which included 45 sculptures and 36 drawings. Striding Figures (Version 2) was included in the exhibition. Around this time Roland Penrose summed up some of the themes that were central to Armitage's career ‘... one can see in the simple terms to which the human form can be reduced, its constant effort to communicate with the outside world by gestures ... a stretching into space of tenuous limbs; a leaning movement, the approach of one body to another until they become absorbed into each other ... A generous warmth in his feeling for humanity distinguishes Armitage from the trend common to many artists of our time who are preoccupied with a sense of anxiety, disintegration or aggression. The idioms used by him such as the melting together of two or more bodies, the unison of their movement, the stretching, the probing gestures of slender limbs, even the small mushroom-shaped heads that contribute to the monumental scale of the massive body beneath, all these features characteristic of his work convey a playful affectionate attitude’.

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