KENNETH ARMITAGE in some ways resembled the painter Gulley Jimson in Joyce Cary's novel The Horse's Mouth - his art overrode almost everything else in his life. Armitage's moods swung from thunder to geniality, provocation to glee, and in as many seconds. But always, underlying the emotion of the moment, was his enduring passion for art, firing an intense creative energy and a fiercely enquiring mind.
He loved to learn, and his studio table was always piled high with his own and library books - on scientific discovery, space exploration, engineering, mythology, rocks and standing stones. He embraced ideas from the pursuit of the human genome project to belief in the Dagda of Irish myth with childlike enthusiasm. He loathed political correctness, made friends and enemies galore and was a constant and ardent admirer of the female form.
While his mother's Irish connections would always be a strong influence, he was born and schooled on the outskirts of Leeds and became part of the Yorkshire tradition of monumental sculptors - Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Damien Hirst. One of Armitage's schoolteachers, Foxy Walker, persuaded his mother to let him take up the arts, for which he remained ever thankful. So he spent the 1930s at art school in Leeds and at the Slade, half a dozen years in the Royal Artillery over the Second World War, and roughly the same at the School of Art in Bath and Corsham up to the early 1950s. As a sculptor he started as a carver, but soon became a modeller and caster.
Armitage brought humour and a certain dancing movement to the works of the post-Moore generation of British sculptors. That new wave - Bernard Meadows, Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Robert Adams, and Armitage himself - were launched into fame abruptly by their sell- out success with the British pavilion at the 1952 Venice Biennale, at that time a central event in the arts calendar.
The originality of Armitage's work was particularly appreciated in his major bronze groups. The earliest of these dated from his time teaching at Corsham - Linked Figures (1949) and People in the Wind (1950, the most famous of his pieces, both at maquette size and later in a larger form). The series of groups continued with Friends Walking (1952), Children Playing (1953), Diarchy and Triarchy (1957- 60) and others.
By 1960, advised by the Gimpel Fils gallery, Armitage was selling his works, large and small, in the United States, Japan, Venezuela and other parts of the world. Then, his spirit always tending to the lone-wolf, he diverted from what the critics and the major buying public wanted. His tall bronze standing slabs, usually named Pandarus, with projecting funnels, shelves and dramatically reaching arms (partly inspired by a time spent in the dense Venezuelan jungle) were less well received and understood. But they continued until about 1970. His own interpretation was that they were about communication (trumpets out of orthostats) and the nature of cast bronze itself (he did everything possible in their making himself and unusually made only one of each).
I met Kenneth Armitage in 1980, when his second flowering was just starting, though his fame of the 1950s was much faded. In a book I had written on Arts and Crafts architecture, I had complained of the state of the roof of his house at 22 Avonmore Road, Kensington, built in 1888 by the talented arts and crafts architect, J. …