Kenneth Armitage

Study for Pandarus


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Not on display

Kenneth Armitage 1916–2002
Gouache, household emulsion, gloss paint and charcoal on paper
Support: 405 × 505 mm
Presented by the Kenneth Armitage Foundation 2012


Study for Pandarus 1964 is a drawing in ink and gouache on paper depicting the torso of an abstracted figure from an oblique angle. Like all of Armitage’s Pandarus works, the figure has two funnel-like openings at its head, pointing in opposite directions diagonal to the viewer. Beneath the funnel-heads, there are also appendages attached to the torso, which itself is cylindrical in shape. A ground line appears behind the figure towards the bottom of the composition, suggesting distance and a physical space being inhabited by the figure.

Between 1962 and 1965 Armitage made a series of twelve figure sculptures that he titled Pandarus, one of which is Pandarus (Version 8) 1963 (Tate T11754). In these sculptures and related drawings, Armitage was referring to the go-between character that appears in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde – Armitage’s favourite Chaucer work – and William Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. Pandarus is both a bawdy, lecherous degenerate and a kindly individual who tries to help the two lovers. As historian Alan Bowness explains:

Pandarus was … the go-between, doing other people’s dirty work, exploiting the weaknesses of others. The orifices of the Pandarus figures are ugly, threatening, dark: projecting out of an almost blank featureless wall. But the anger and disgust that these works convey… is not only directed outwards: it seems to turn inwards as well.
(Quoted in Arts Council 1972, unpaginated.)

Taken together with the related drawing, Drawing for Pandarus (Male) 1962 (Tate T13679), Study for Pandarus highlights the sexual themes within the series of sculptures, even though these drawings are not direct studies for any of the twelve sculptures. Through these sculptures and drawings Armitage also raised issues of communication through the funnels’ resemblance to trumpets or megaphones.

Drawing was a major part of Armitage’s practice as a sculptor and he routinely kept sketchbooks, making direct studies for sculptures and using drawing as a way of exploring themes that, while close to those resolved in his sculptures, take on their own significance. At the same time, a number of his drawings, like Study for Pandarus, are individual works in their own right, even when they relate to ideas he was exploring in his sculpture. This is also the case with the drawings Armitage editioned in lithograph (Seated Group 1960, Tate P06014, and Balanced Figure 1960–1, Tate P06015).

Armitage consolidated his reputation when he showed in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1952 and 1958. At the earlier Biennale, his work appeared as part of the exhibition New Aspects of British Sculpture, which brought to the fore a tendency in British sculpture that was widely identified as the ‘geometry of fear’ and also included artists such as Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Bernard Meadows, Eduardo Paolozzi and William Turnbull. His work remained largely figurative throughout his career, depicting human bodies as fragile but playful forms often made up of elongated limbs and flattened planes. Later in his career, from the 1960s onwards, he incorporated different materials such as plastic into his practice and began to work on a much larger scale. His public commissions included a war memorial for the city of Krefeld, Germany; a sculpture for the British Embassy in Brasilia; and another for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Further reading
Kenneth Armitage, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 1959.
Kenneth Armitage, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, London 1972.
Tamsyn Woollcombe (ed.), Kenneth Armitage: Life and Work, London 1997.

Andrew Wilson
April 2012
Arthur Goodwin
December 2018

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