'Urge to Paint' - Keith Church 1955-1982

'Urge to Paint' is the 1st ever exhibition chosen from the life's work of artist and former Goldsmiths student Keith Church murdered in 1982

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On 20th Feb 2017 we successfully raised £3,300 with 73 supporters in 74 days

Project aim

'Urge to Paint' is the first ever exhibition selected from the life's work of artist and former Goldsmiths student Keith Church (http://www.keithchurch.co.uk/), who was murdered aged 27 in July 1982.  The project aim is to fund the care, preservation and future exhibiting of the artist’s body of work, ensuring it is available for future generations to enjoy. 

Keith had a lifelong "urge to paint".   After successfully completing the Foundation course at Goldsmiths in 1976, he devoted his short adult life to exploring his craft, doing what he believed he was born to do - draw and paint.  

Keith feared the influence of art school would stifle his artistic licence.  His urge to paint using his own motivation made him resist going back to art college immediately.   Over a period of six years he lived in a commune and painted or drew several thousand pictures.  Eventually he relented and planned to return to Goldsmiths in time for the 1982 degree intake.  

He had been experimenting furiously with his own aesthetic, but in July 1982, aged just 27, his life was cut short when he was murdered.  It remains one of the few unsolved murders in Britain.  This quiet, gentle, unassuming and striving artist was stabbed to death on a quiet road in the tiny Hertfordshire town of Broxbourne.   His untimely death was to wipe out the opportunity to mature into the artist his work tantalisingly promised.

Celebrating Keith's Works

When tragedy struck our family in 1982 we cherished the work that Keith left behind. Only slowly did it dawn on us just how extensive and detailed his labours had been.  During his short lifetime, he created 2000+ works.

His mother Pat Church, now 83, has been the custodian of his art since Keith’s death. Kept in boxes, on walls, in the garage and spare rooms. It was her wish, to share his work in her lifetime that prompted a letter to the Warden of Goldsmiths University on the 40th anniversary of his passing his Art Foundation to ask if they might exhibit some of the artworks created by their former student.

Introducing new audiences to this talented young man’s works

The answer from Goldsmiths was yes, so 35 years after his death we are pleased that what we believe is this exceptional artist's work will be hosted at the institution where he and his mentor, Harman Sumray, had their art education at Goldsmiths.  

The free entry art exhibition will be part of a cultural event on the 19th January to explore identity, aspiration and representation at Goldsmiths University.  The exhibition will run until 1st February  in the Professor Stuart Hall building in New Cross, South London. 


Keith's is a familiar story of how an artist struggles to fashion a personal vision in a demanding world.   His vision was ultimately incomplete and this exhibition is a reminder of the artistic aspiration of finding a unique way of representing the world.   He wrote in one notebook: "Art is the result of an urge.  Controlled and applied by the will of the Artist.  Though the urge often comes out far stronger than the control." (1976)

A thoughtful and private man, Keith worked with whatever materials he could muster to craft a body of work.  His father Albert and brother Robert used to collect hundreds of bits of discarded wood and hardboard as  proxies for a canvas.  

Inspiring other young artists through Keith’s works

This will be the first time Keith's creative energy, industry, talent, dreams and nightmares will be explored by a wider audience.  The liking of art is in the eyes of the viewer but he left enough to make us wonder what he might have become.

We believe the exhibition will help students of art to recognise the powerful legacy they are constructing if they commit to being an artist.  We also believe that Keith’s experimentation with many different styles will inspire other young people to see that Art requires spontaneity, experimentation and craft.  

The purpose of our campaign

The money you donate will be used to ensure a larger number of paintings can be displayed in a way that gives the work a much broader airing.  

Some of the paintings are nearly 50 years old and fragile so exhibiting them professionally is essential.  For an artist who never got to share his vision, we think it is also respectful to Keith's legacy to present the work as he might have done himself in his 62nd year had he lived.  

We also plan to produce a small catalogue and a website of the work which will slowly be populated with more work once the exhibition is launched, to enable Keith's art to reach a wider audience.  It will include the sketches that formed the studies for some of the work on display.  

Your generous support will go towards the preservation and exhibition of Keith’s works, the accompanying catalogue and helping us to reach a wider audience online.

It will also enable the curators to ensure that Keith's work will be available for future exhibitions.

Keith’s influences and subject matter

Pat Church was her son's first serious subject, captured in the impressionistic but intimate and beautifully painted portrait at age 12. It was this painting that alerted art teacher, Harman Sumray, to his student's potential.   It was at this point too that Keith decided he wanted to be an artist.

After passing his Foundation course, he focussed on painting the familiar.  Whether it be the much younger brother painted with strong contours and bright clear colours or the pretty scenes of the church and cemetery from his bedroom window in Broxbourne.

As he developed his talent, so did the range of styles he experimented with.  His works are extraordinarily varied and although without a specific signature, reflect an emerging talent.  Influences can be seen from Gustav Klimt, Paul Cezanne, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Friedrich Hundertwasser and even Hieronymus Bosch.   One can see Pablo Picasso-guitars warped like Salvador Dali’s soft watches or a David’s star and cat that have echos of Marc Chagall’s dreamlike imagery.  

His use of bright colours in fantastical scenes reminiscent of Max Ernst.  His vividly painted self-portraits often have playful elements with decorative shapes.  At other times there is an intense or obsessive character to the work capturing a seemingly lost and desperate artist.  

Whilst he maintains a structured approach with many of his studies they too reflect a desire for exploration. He is often using his art in a soul-searching exercise; a particular series exhibit the swirling, meandering style, reminiscent of Edward Munch, not just in the clothing, but that curious hallucinative atmosphere created by Munch.  At other times he seems to try and catch his dreams or even more darkly his nightmares.  His voice was emerging, he had already begun that journey to join the great art family and become involved in something beyond himself, Goldsmiths had recognised that and taken the gamble on his talent. 

His mother writes, "Keith had high morals, he cared about the world we live in, he cared about people especially the underdog. He was not an angry person, but he did not fit in, he was just too shy."

What we have is an artistic legacy to remember the humanity of the artist who was only at the foothills of this journey. We can only imagine, what if?  Remembering that an 'urge to paint' is something deeply embedded in our global culture and even when the artist is no longer here, their humanity lives on.

 You can find more artwork on the website designed by Alban Allen at http://www.keithchurch.co.uk/

 Thank you for taking an interest and helping us put Keith Church's work on the artistic map. 

Kurt Barling,  December 2016

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