Michael Armitage with Toby Kamps at The Brooklyn Rail:
Rail: Were you always a figurative painter?
Armitage: I certainly was when I started, seeing as I was six. Throughout art school, throughout my BA foundation course, I was basically making figurative paintings. Then I got to a point at the beginning of my postgraduate where I was questioning the use of the figure in painting. I was questioning all of the elements that make up a painting, down to image, support, color, material, ideas. At that point, I took the figure out of my paintings, and I began making abstract compositions that sometimes related to figures but were much more loose explorations of ideas. Ideas that I’m still thinking about and working on today.
But then, after working mainly as an abstract painter for the best part of three years, I began thinking about the relevance of art in Kenya and in East Africa. One of the things that was clear to me was that there isn’t a huge audience there, certainly not a kind of gallery-going audience. So if I wanted to make my paintings have a kind of immediacy and relevance to someone there that walked in off the street, one way of doing that would be to have a reflection of the people that I was interested in talking to. So that made me consider putting the figure back into my work.