Pandarus (version 8) is one in a series of twelve sculptures inspired by a character in the artist’s favourite tale from Chaucer, his great epic poem from the 1380s, Troylus and Criseyde. Pandarus was the noisy, kindly and highly active go-between who ensured that, despite belonging to opposing sides in the Trojan War, the couple were able to consummate their love. Armitage has explained:
From 1962 I began to make these things which had a tall tower-like shape, with funnels piercing through (the Pandarus series). The idea of the funnel was two-fold. You could see the thickness of the metal at the edge of the funnel, and the funnel also made confined shadows. These pieces were to do with communication and were like trumpets.
(Quoted in Woollcombe, p.63.)
Both the tower-like shape and the funnels may also have a less consciously-articulated origin. Armitage had served during the Second World War as a gunner in the Royal Artillery and many images from that period returned to haunt him later, as did his awareness of shape after working for a long period in aircraft-identification. It is possible that the monolithic Pandarus sculptures owe something to such repressed memories as well as to more immediate sculptural concerns. The previous two years he had been working on a set of similarly unitary and enigmatic works – large and small versions of a sculpture entitled Prophet cast in brass (reproduced in Kenneth Armitage, exhibition catalogue, Marlborough Fine Art, London 1962, [pp.27–8] pl.20–3), and Sibyl III (T00518). Shelf-like protuberances emerging from the upper parts of these sculptures originated in a memory of bracket fungus on trees at the art college in Corsham where Armitage had taught until 1956. Slightly earlier, Girl Without a Face 1958/9 (reproduced in Woollcombe, p.49) represents his first exploration of confined shadow, an idea which derived from a sunlit fashion photograph in which the long shadow cast by a large hat completely obscured the wearer’s face.
Pandarus (version 8) develops these ideas. It consists principally of a slightly flared column in the shape of an ellipse, widest at its base, with two large, shovel-shaped projecting openings near the top. They pierce the main funnel and face in different directions, suggesting at once listening ears and loudspeakers. What in the Sibyls had been a broad, encircling shelf around the central core, is here treated more graphically so that three barely-raised, narrow metal bands divide the core into unequal, horizontal sections without breaking the main outline. The sloping angle of the central band gives the work a suggestion of animation. Above it is a single, deep slot, a letterbox or navel, surrounded by a dense and intricate pattern of incised lines. Despite its slightly menacing appearance, Pandarus (version 8) has retained its human scale, being the height of a relatively tall man, and its protuberances are so placed as to suggest the orifices on a human head.
There is a family resemblance between all the sculptures in the Pandarus series, but distinct variations in scale and in the ways the markings, orifices and slots relate to the central trunk. Pandarus (version 6) 1963 (reproduced in Kenneth Armitage: Sculptures, Maquettes, Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Jonathan Clark Fine Art, London 2005, [p.27] cat.24) has the simple structure of some unicellular creature, whereas Pandarus (version 9) 1964 (reproduced in Woollcombe p.68) is distinguished by the large size of its two ‘ears’ in relation to the body, and it has a vertical ‘navel’. The rough, uneven surface suggests its origin as a clay figure worked by hand, whereas Tate’s Pandarus is more elegantly shaped and has a more machine-made appearance. Pandarus (version 11) 1964 (reproduced in Woollcombe p.66) is similar to T11754 but for several reasons appears less animated: the two funnels are fixed in a horizontal position, the additional encircling bands alter the sense of proportion and visual rhythm, and it has straight sides rather than a flared base.
For the Pandarus series, Armitage developed an unorthodox method of lost-wax casting by which the four sections of the column and the two funnels were first modeled in clay, then covered in plaster and the inner surfaces waxed to a thickness of a quarter of an inch. The wax tube sections were then cast and brazed together, with the two funnels welded into the holes. Brass was chosen as the most suitable metal because of its bright yellow colour, but in the case of Pandarus (version 8) the surface was chemically patinated and then coated with a brown stain wax.
Armitage himself stated that all the Pandarus sculptures were unique, partly because the process of making them was so complex. Subsequent research, however, has suggested that the artist originally intended them to be produced in editions of up to six, and there is an indication in Armitage’s record book that two casts of Pandarus (version 8) were made at the same time (Treves, p.17, footnote 1). None other than T11754 is known.
Tamsyn Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage, Life and Work, London 1997, reproduced p.63.
Kenneth Armitage: 60 Years of Sculpture and Drawing, Jonathan Clark Gallery, London 2001, reproduced [p.31] fig.19.
Toby Treves, Pandarus (version 8) 1963, British Art in Focus: Tate Patrons’ Papers 7, London 2004. Also published as a Tate Paper, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/tateresearch/tatepapers/04autumn/treves.htm
, accessed 21 March 2009.