The First Encounter
This work was created in response Tate’s digitized archive collection of Kenneth Armitage and specifically in response to a notebook which contains records of works by Kenneth Armitage between 1957 and 1960. Access to the Leeds Sculpture Collection and archival materials at the Henry Moore Institute also provided an opportunity to examine the maquettes Armitage created for his Standing Group series (1951-52) and to investigate some of the early life drawings and photographs made by his wife Joan Moore.
Figure 1: Kenneth Armitage, Sketchbook Detail – 1950-1960. P. 6. TGA 20034/4/15. © The Kenneth Armitage Foundation. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).
Figure 2: Kenneth Armitage, Sketchbook Detail – 1950-1960. P. 10. TGA 20034/4/15. © The Kenneth Armitage Foundation. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).
My initial search of Tate’s digital archive drew me to notations recording details Armitage’s works. These visually attractive documents comprise an inventory of his sculptures between 1957 and 1960 and feature hand written notes and quick reference sketches of each work. These ruled pages of information are subsequently overlaid with crossed lines as Armitage records the sales and movement of his pieces as he sends them to exhibitions or sells them to clients [See Figure 5]. This overlaying and inscription in the notebooks evoked my own interest in the structure of woven fabrics and the notation systems employed by a weaver to record the details of fabric production. My interest in this notebook led me to further study the work of Armitage, a sculptor of whom I had little knowledge, but who had his roots in Yorkshire and studied at Leeds College of Art. Subsequent study at the Slade School of Art (1937-39) led Armitage to focus on the direct carving technique, a skill also used by Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Barbara Hepworth. Armitage, however, moved into modeling with wire mesh and plaster from which evolved his highly innovative series of ‘linked-figures’. His fascination with the structure of things (animal, vegetable and man-made), and much as a weaver must balance structure with the final aesthetics and functionality of a fabric, led to a preoccupation with the human figure and to the representation of tensions between the vertical and horizontal elements hidden behind an outer skin or form.
Figure 5 (right): Kenneth Armitage, Sketchbook Detail – 1950-1960. P.4. TGA 20034/4/15. © The Kenneth Armitage Foundation. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
The visual impact of the recorded works in this notebook brought to my mind the notations used in the practice of weave, where symbols represent the formation of a design, and where logical movements and accurate records are essential to the craft of the weaver. My investigation into the sculpture of Armitage from the early 1950s and subsequent reading about the works themselves piqued my curiosity about the wider of context of British sculpture in this period and to the work of Armitage’s contemporaries, including Lynn Chadwick, Eduardo Paolozzi and Henry Moore. This new wave of sculptors, which also included Bernard Meadows, Reg Butler and Robert Adam, were featured at the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 (Service, 2014).
Further research into Armitage’s influences and the processes used in his practice led to me to draw parallels between my own practice of weaving and his skill in building up the underlying structure in the development of his armatures [See Figures 6, 7 and 8]. Armitage refers to key autobiographical experiences including time he spent in the army as an enemy plane spotter, his passion for engineered architectural structures and the folding screens in his studio. Armitage did not consciously seek to draw upon these inspirations directly, but notes that on reflection, he was probably unconsciously referencing his surrounding environment and army knowledge in the development of the grouped linked figures that became prevalent in his work in the early 1950s (Woollcombe, 1997). My own work also references environments I have been exposed to, including my fascination with architectural forms and the development of dynamic tensioned structures in the landscape. As a sculptor, Armitage began his career as a sculptor specializing in carving, but soon became interested in modelling and casting. It is noted by Service (2014) that ‘Armitage brought humour and a certain dancing movement to the works of the post-Moore generation of British sculptors.’ The body of work he commenced during his time teaching at Corsham led to a bronze series that included Linked Figures (1949) and People in the Wind (1950).
Figure 6: Nicola Redmore, Weave Development [drawing] Notebook recording details of works by Kenneth Armitage 1957–60, pages 6 & 7.
Figures 7 and 8: Kenneth Armitage, Sketchbook Detail – 1950-1960. PP.6 and 7. TGA 20034/4/15. © The Kenneth Armitage Foundation. Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)
Visually delicate supports central to the engineering of suspension bridges (the Clifton Suspension bridge for example), where the method of support is laid bare, had a profound effect on Armitage. He was interested in ‘modern architects’ like Brunel, who made the load-bearing frame an integral design element. The process of weaving under high tension to generate the structure of a woven fabric relies on a similar understanding of the relationship between threads to link different elements together to to create a beautifully engineered cloth.
Armitage developed his own enquiry into support systems early on in his studies at the Slade. His experience at art school taught him that he could build a bridge between delicate arms and the main body of a figure to prevent them from snapping off, drawing parallels with the necessary joining and sharing of parts of the body as seen in Siamese Twins. Armitage’s move from the reductive process of carving, where material must be removed to reveal the desired form, to the additive system approach required for the production of armatures for casting processes is significant. What knowledge and skills are needed to to perfect the creation of these surprisingly diminutive pieces? According to Barnes (2002):
Although his work was the product of careful study and preparation, he wished always to convey a sense of immediacy and playfulness. "I like sculpture to look as if it happened, to express an idea as simply as possible," he said.
In July 2015, I attended a sculpture course entitled Breaking the Mould at the Hepworth Art Gallery in Wakefield. This enabled me to experience first-hand the challenges that Armitage would have had in sculpting small and delicate pieces in plaster. He made (as is the tradition) armatures in plaster over wire and netting with scrim to stiffen the top edges. For me, working with fine metal wire meshes was akin to manipulating a fabric where greater control is achieved through the warp and weft. It was a challenge for me to work with the open wire meshes and the rough hessian required for bonding the plaster. These fine meshes had their own beauty and transparency, and when manipulated, torn and molded into shapes, they reminded me of the small pink plaster works made by Armitage.
Armitage’s early plaster works saw him compulsively joining more and more forms to create unified entanglements of bodies and limbs to create figures caught together in a common purpose. People in a Wind (1950) is one piece that captures the dynamism of a group struggling against the natural elements and is redolent of the weather on the moors in Yorkshire where Armitage grew up. My own work strives to create pieces that may be sited in the exposed conditions of the West Yorkshire Moors, building an elasticity, durability and transparency into meshwork leno-woven fabrics.
The word sculpture has connotations of weight, scale and material, but at an early stage in Armitage’s career, he demonstrates a certain delicacy of approach in his pursuit of plasticity. The contours and textures expressed in his work are akin to the erosion of the landscape in his native Yorkshire. The raw and unpolished textures of his early pieces can be found in the marks made by each tool. According to Bennington (2000) Armitage’s ‘move form direct carving to modeling was occasioned by a fascination with the structure of things’. I have also, in my response to these plaster works, taken erosion and structure as a mode of revealing a process where additive and reductive traces underpin the scaffolding of a plaster armature.
Thinking through weave
My practice is centered on weaving leno fabrics, a technique in which the interlacing of the structural warp threads with the horizontal weft yarns in a cloth, to form stable, flexible and more importantly, open structures. This method of weaving creates a fabric where the structure is fully revealed. My interest in the ribs and wirework structure of Armitage’s armature, bundled together in places, (as in the indistinguishable legs of People in a Wind) and then drifting apart to reveal a surprising delicacy, lies in the moment where the structure is weighted down at intervals, grounded and held back. With the structuring of weave, at some point the individual threads start to be considered as surfaces brought together by their density, a finishing process or through the addition of a skin.
Threads set up in the warp in the cloth can appear to follow the same path a system of planned entanglement following a notation of lifts. This is a sequence in which the warp threads are lifted over the weft and crossings can be formed by the doup leno set-up [see Figures 11, 12, 13]
Figure 11: Nicola Redmore Doup Leno development (detail), 2015.
Figure 12: Nicola Redmore, Setting up the loom. 2015.
Figure 13: Nicola Redmore, Design Development 2015 [acrylic/pen]
Working with the archival material, through methods of observation, sketching and photography, led me to develop exploratory collages of threads, layered and bonded with a translucent medium. This is one area of my initial practice–led enquiry. These pieces play with concepts of scale, transparency, colour and the contrasting weight and density of line. Entanglements of threads to create meshes were further developed through handmade net making, sketching and additive methods of weaving to create a path of threads on the surface of woven cloth.
The practice of weave provides a fresh look and a new emphasis on the hidden importance of the underlying support systems in the additive sculptural processes adopted by Armitage. As in many material-designated disciplines, the craft of textiles is understood to be a way of making things by hand, but also as a way of thinking with the hand in manipulating a material. It is ‘a dynamic process of learning and understanding through material experience’ (Gray & Burnett, 2009, p51).
Figure 14: Nicola Redmore, Sample 1 (detail) 2015 [wire/raffia/monofilament]
Figure 15: Nicola Redmore, Sample 2 (detail) 2015 [viscose/paper/monofilament]
Working with archival materials provides a source of captured details representing many aspects of a sculptor’s thinking, making and recording of the creative process. The archive gave light to personal details and potential influences, which would be otherwise hidden or left unarticulated and not always apparent in a final finished sculpture. There is a great satisfaction in gaining knowledge of the influences that may have formed the work of Armitage. Decoding the impact these experiences may have had on his ideas and development makes us view his publicly displayed and commissioned pieces from a fresh perspective.
For example, Armitage’s Model for the Krefeld Monument (1956) gives us a mere glimpse of the mechanics of the sculptural process in a similar manner to the honesty of approach used by Lynn Chadwick in his Inner Eye Marquette (1952). Yet so many sculptors hide the inner workings of monolithic castings and engineered volumes. An analysis of the pieces on loan from the Leeds Sculpture Collection reveals a surprisingly delicate beauty and diminutive scale in Armitage’s plaster works. The delicacy of the forms and fragility of the wrapped skin of plaster on these conjoined figures for his Standing Group sculptures (1951) reveals the skill of the maker in manipulating materials on a small scale. We can only guess at the lengthy process required in engineering these apparently effortless pieces.
My final piece produced for Thought Positions in Sculpture retains the flexibility and openness emblematic of woven cloth, whilst at the same time, highlighting the structure of interconnected warp and weft threads. A triptych of tensioned woven forms has emerged out of a deeper understanding of the use of wire, mesh and scrim at the core of the armature process. In weaving, elements are brought together to create an emergent system, tension is required in a fabric to enable the interlacing and intertwining of the vertical (warp) and horizontal (weft) threads in the weaving process, and this relationship is exposed in this leno-woven piece. According to Seelig (2005): ‘Rarely is empathy for materials greater than it is in the textile and fiber-related media, where they are felt and experienced beyond their physical presence as is they were animate and alive.’ He also recognizes the increase in the use of materials that re-sensitize, through exposure to the primal reality of raw material, a reality that is celebrated here.
Figure 16 (right): Kenneth Armitage, Maquette for standing Group, 1951, Nicola Redmore Mesh [Installation view] Photograph © Jamie Collier, University of Huddersfield, 2015
Barnes, R. (2002). Kenneth Armitage: Sculptor whose fragile forms reflected a concern for human feelings. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/jan/24/guardianobituaries.arts
Benington, J. (2000). Kenneth Armitage's 'People in a Wind' The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd.
Gray, C., & Burnett, G. (2009). Making sense: An exploration of ways of knowing generated through practice and reflection in craft. In L. K. Kaukinen (Ed.), Proceedings of the Crafticulation and Education Conference (pp.51).
Helsinki, Finland: NordFo. Redmore, N. (2015). Sculpturally Interwoven. Retrieved from: https://unnaturalalliances.wordpress.com
Seelig, W. (2005). THINKING ALOUD: Contemporary Fiber, Material Meaning. American Craft, 65(4), 42-45 Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/216156806?accountid=11526
Service, A. (2014). Kenneth Armitage Obituary. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/kenneth-armitage-9135317.html
Woollcombe, T. (1997) Kenneth Armitage: Life and Work. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd