Keith Coventry, Vanishing Certainties, Painting and Sculpture 1992-2009, Haunch of Venison, London, 2009, illus colour p41
At first sight, Keith Coventry’s Estate Paintings resemble the abstract oils of Russian Suprematist Kazimir Malevich or perhaps the Dutch Modernist Piet Mondrian. Closer inspection reveals that the geometric patterns in these paintings are in fact taken directly from the utilitarian notice boards which are invariably found at the entrance to London council estates and which indicate the layout of flats using a simplified aerial plan.
Reference to the original estate maps, show that Coventry transcribes the layouts quite faithfully, making only small interventions such as slightly rotating the image, or making minor simplifications to the shape of the blocks. As such, he treats each estate map as an object trouvé, clearly amused to find this abstract, formal beauty in such a prosaic source.
Coventry has painted over a hundred different Estate Paintings, each of which are presented in a box frame made by the artist, often with a museum style caption fixed to the frame’s bottom edge. He subverts both the language of high Modernism, and the reserved status of the museum object, highlighting the wide gap which exists between these often neglected estates and the utopian ideals of their original Modernist architects.
Since he began the series, many of the estates Coventry has painted have already been, or are now scheduled for, demolition. Two paintings from this series East Street Estate, 1994 and Heygate Estate, 1995 are in the collection of the Tate Gallery, London. Demolition of the Heygate Estate began in 2011, but redevelopment has not been without controversy. Some residents, many of them elderly, campaigned to stay in their homes, with a determined few occupying the buildings of this and the neighbouring Aylesbury Estate.
Keith Coventry was born in Burnley in 1958 and lives and works in London. He attended Brighton Polytechnic 1978– 81 and Chelsea School of Art London 1981– 82. One of the original “Young British Artists”, he was included in the seminal exhibition Sensation at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1997. His work has been exhibited widely in the UK and Europe and is included in collections worldwide, including the British Council, Tate Modern, Arts Council of England, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2010 Coventry was awarded the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize.