Keith Coventry. Pure Junk II, 2015. Carved wood, muslin, beeswax, gesso, glass and wood, 186 cm x 135.5 cm
The Junk paintings of 2002 similarly move between different levels of abstraction. They reveal what is more obliquely referenced in the 2012 series, that is, that the source of Coventry’s palette and of his dynamic curves and trapezoids is the most ubiquitous logo in the world – the ‘golden arches’ of the Mcdonald’s ‘M’. The early 20th century avant-gardes conceived of abstraction as a universal visual language with which to transcend culture or class. for artists such as Malevich it also represented ‘creative work which will be not merely personal but belong to the united masses’2. Yet this is precisely what has been achieved by a multinational food corporation’s brand. It is no wonder that the Junk paintings trigger a sense of recognition. Coventry has identified a common formal language that signifies historic Modernism at the same time as subliminally evoking a sign that has come to encapsulate capitalism. These paintings prompt us to consider how modernity has shifted from a revolutionary dream of social transformation through creativity, to a dystopian reality of cultural impoverishment and environmental destruction through mass consumerism.
Ultimately however the art of Keith Coventry is redemptive. The title ‘junk’ can refer to ‘junk food’ and the rubbish that proliferates around fast food outlets. But it is also a derogatory term for the consumers of cheap food. Through the sheer transcendent beauty of these paintings, Coventry transforms these debased forms to show the possibility of a return to that lost vision of the modern art project.