Personal papers of Kenneth Armitage

Scope and Content

The personal papers of Kenneth Armitage. The papers consist of personal and professional correspondence; photographs, including a comprehensive series of photographs of Armitage's works; personal documents; press cuttings and printed material; and ephemera from Armitage's studio.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Kenneth Armitage, sculptor, was born in Leeds on 18 July 1916. He attended Leeds College of Art from 1933 to 1937 and then studied sculpture at the Slade, where he met Joan Moore. They married in 1940. When war was declared he volunteered for the Royal Artillery and eventually became second in command of aircraft identification at Devonport. After the war he was appointed Head of Sculpture at Bath Academy of Art in Corsham, a position that he held from 1946 to 1956.

Armitage's work was exhibited in the 1952 Venice Biennale and he subsequently started showing work at various galleries including Bertha Schaefer and Paul Rosenberg & Co. in New York, and Gimpel Fils, the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Marlborough Fine Art in London. In 1956, he won the competition for the Krefeld monument, run by the Kaiser-Wilhelm Museum, with a figurative piece that incorporated the cellular structure of the bombed buildings in Krefeld.

In the late 1940s and 1950s his sculpture reflected his interest in ancient Cycladic and Sardinian sculpture, his figures having truncated bodies, sticklike limbs, and crudely shaped heads. He was also interested in a flattening of form, which he believed was influenced by his work on aircraft identification during the war. He shifted towards a more abstract subject-matter in the 1960s creating, among other pieces, the Pandarus series, brass ridged structures with trumpetlike funnels. In the mid-1960s he accepted an offer from the DAAD, the German Academic Exchange, to work in Berlin, where he began casting in aluminium, resin and fibreglass. The use of colour and the sleekness of the surfaces in these sculptures suggest the influence of Pop art and their boldness and scale echo the defiance of the political demonstrations of the times. In 1970 he taught at Boston University, Massachusetts for one semester and in 1972 started teaching a day a week at the Royal Academy. Around this time he began experimenting with cardboard and zigzag folded screens, some of which incorporated his drawings, e.g. 'Nottingham Screen' (1973). The ten years between 1975 and 1985 was what he called his Richmond Oak phase, in which he concentrated almost entirely on producing representations of the trees in Richmond Park with which he had fallen in love.

Throughout his life, he travelled widely, spurred on by an interest in anthropology, and in 1963 went to Venezuela to work at the Caracas University. While there he travelled to the rainforest to meet the native Indians, which was documented in Hans Neumann's film 'Kanarakuni'. He often travelled to Ireland where his mother's family came from and he had a lifelong fascination with the country's history and its landscape. In the 1990s he produced 'The Dagda', influenced by Celtic art and mythology and his trips to the fissured landscape of the Burren in Ireland. The last piece he produced was one of his biggest sculptures, five legs frozen in motion entitled 'People Walking'. He died on 22 January 2002.


The collection has been catalogued in the following series:

TGA 20034/1 : Correspondence

TGA 20034/2 : Photographs, transparencies, and negatives

TGA 20034/3 : Notes

TGA 20034/4 : Personal documents

TGA 20034/5 : Printed material and press cuttings

TGA 20034/6 : Film and video

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Corporate Names

Geographical Names