Two Standing Women, 1955
19 1/2 x 7 1/8 x 7 3/4 in, 49.5 x 17.8 x 19.8 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”. 'Two Standing Women' (1955) is typical of Armitage's preoccupation with the human figure which began during the 1950s when he started to create humorous sculptures of small-scale figures, with flattened bodies and long, awkward limbs.
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 a 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 figures have been flattened, the torsoes have been reduced to large, oval masses topped by small rounded heads and the arms and legs are exaggeratedly thin.
Armitage was also influenced by his wartime experience of military machinery and its industrial production. He had served in the army during World War II and after the disaster of Allied gunners shooting down their own planes at Dunkirk, he ran courses in identifying the shape of enemy tanks and aircraft. During his time as Head of Sculpture at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham (1946 – 1956) military memories, including the “shapes of aircraft” entered into his work. The reduction of complex machinery to simple lines can be seen in the strong emphasis on vertical lines in sculptures such as this from the 1950s. He also exploited the medium of bronze for its brutal visual appeal.
Nevertheless, Armitage’s figurative works from this period 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. In 'Two Standing Women' Armitage has exaggerated the human forms to create absurd and comic figures. Norbert Lynton in his monograph on Kenneth Armitage also commented on the artist’s positive view of “human companionship” which is apparent here: in the touching scene two women, side by side, are symbolically melded together in the same slab of bronze.