Since the era of the YBAs, Keith Coventry has produced work that sifts through the leftovers of postmodern society to transform detritus through the minimal frame of modernist aesthetics. Combing London’s streets for signs, packaging, and building materials, Coventry began his “Junk” series at the beginning of the new millenium, repositioning fragments of the McDonald’s logo into could-be Constructivist compositions. Divorced from their consumerist context, the shapes possess a stark geometric rhythm. On the occasion of the IFPDA Print Fair, where Paul Stolper Gallery will present a new iteration of “Junk” etchings, we spoke to Coventry on the development of his work and its grounding in the ever-changing backdrop of London.
Keith Coventry: In the ’90s I was looking at the plans of buildings on council estates while walking around South London. Some seemed to me to be like a version of a Malevich painting. At the time, appropriation was a strong element in art, so the signs and paintings seemed to work well.
Artsy: Malevich believed that strong colors in solid minimal forms could supply the canvas with a kind of energy. Is this something you wished to bring to your work, and the “Junk” prints in particular? How do you arrive at the correct composition of color in geometric forms, and blank space?
KC: I have always been interested in hard, clear, and repeatable images, rather than an atmospheric quality. The color is provided by the McDonald’s logo, and the white or blank space represents a purity, edging out the commercial image in favor of a more abstract composition.
Artsy: The discarded consumer packaging of your “Junk” series has provided a rich source for your work. Did you imagine that something whose purpose seemed to have passed would have such a useful application in your work? Do you foresee further versions of these “Junk” works in the future?
KC: I have always been interested in things that have been left behind or overlooked. I continue to work on etchings and lithographs from the McDonald’s theme, at the same time as making sculptures from stolen copper sheeting from the roofs of public buildings. At present, I am using enamel on copper sheet, which presents a feeling of Americana, in conjunction with more abstract compositions.
Artsy: Your work is very grounded in the urban. Can you imagine working not from the city, but from the country?
KC: No, I like working in the city, and I have a new studio in Vyner Street, East London. As Dr. Johnson said, “The countryside is a healthy grave.”
Visit Paul Stolper Gallery at IFPDA Print Fair, New York, Booth 416, Nov. 5th—Nov. 9th, 2014.
Portrait of the artist courtesy of Paul Stolper Gallery.