Seated woman with square head (double base), Conceived 1955, cast 1986
24 x 10 1/4 x 12 1/4 in, 60.9 x 26 x 31 cm
Kenneth Armitage stands as one of Britain’s most important post-war sculptors and was one of a group of artists who exhibited at the significant 1952 Venice Biennale show ‘New Aspects...
Kenneth Armitage stands as one of Britain’s most important post-war sculptors and was one of a group of artists who exhibited at the significant 1952 Venice Biennale show ‘New Aspects of British Sculpture’ in the British Pavilion. For Armitage the 1952 show “was really the beginning of my professional life. I was totally unknown before that, and in those few weeks I became a known name internationally”. During the 1950s Armitage rejected the aesthetics of traditional sculpture and instead explored the female form through geometric shapes and abstracted, primitivist forms.
This work is characteristic of the geometric, block-like appearance Armitage gave to his figures. Armitage was one of several young sculptors, including Lynn Chadwick, Reg Butler and William Turnbull, who after the Second World War rejected the traditional idea of sculpture as harmonious, classicized and elegant. When shown at the Venice Biennale in 1952, Herbert Read dubbed their fragmented forms the 'geometry of fear'. Sculptures such as this suggested half human creatures, rather than idealised human forms.
Like Paolozzi, Armitage was attracted to ‘primitive’ and ancient art forms. After one of his frequent visits to the British Museum, Armitage exclaimed, “You cannot imagine the exhilaration of seeing an Egyptian and Cycladic work! After all the classical decadence of 19th century sculpture… it came like a gush of fresh air – pure, direct, simple.” Here he has reduced the human form to its most basic components. The figure has been flattened, the torso has been reduced to a large, rectangular mass topped by a small square head and the arms and legs are exaggeratedly thin. Moreover, the majestic seated woman recalls Egyptian sculpture of deities on thrones.
Armitage’s figurative works are filled with an optimistic and witty tone. Whilst studying at the Slade in the late thirties, alongside Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, his tutors encouraged him to keep the “humorous” side of his work and here Armitage has exaggerated the human form, particularly with the elongated neck and limbs, to create an absurd figure. This sculpture also looks forward to Armitage’s abstract and metaphorical series of "furniture figures" from the 1970s in which in he used mixed media to humorously depict the arms and legs of women emerging from chairs and tables.