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Artist Michael Cox depicts London's disappearing estates

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Paintings of housing estates destined for demolition, such as Aylesbury and Robin Hood Gardens, are the focus of this young artist’s work

‘The starting point for every painting is curiosity; wanting to know more about a thing or place,’ says artist Michael Cox. ‘In this case what the Aylesbury estate means for the landscape of London but also for the residents inside. It’s a transitional place that’s going from old to new very quickly; almost too quickly.’

Cox, who recently graduated from Falmouth School of Art, has found currency painting notable buildings before they get bulldozed, and his work increasingly documents the often unremarkable details of London estates such as Aylesbury and Robin Hood Gardens before they fall prey to demolition and developers. 

Cox’s work humanises these huge estates by focusing on small details; doors, railings, washing, even a patchwork of tiles

Cox doesn’t have any first-hand experience of these estates, other than his visits with camera in hand to take pictures to work from in his studio later.

‘The paintings collectively explore the feeling of not being part of something and being on the outside looking in,’ he says. That is perhaps a sentiment most of us can echo in regards to Aylesbury, Heygate and Robin Hood Gardens – places that the majority might have been past but probably not in to. 

‘The regeneration of the Aylesbury is a double edged sword, which is what drew me to it in the first place, that curiosity as to what’s going on here,’ Cox continues. ‘On the one hand it’s great that a part of London is getting a new lease of life; on the other it’s difficult that many of the residents are faced with displacement, sometimes many miles from the lives they’ve built for themselves in the area. They’re simply being priced out of living there; which is happening across London and indeed further afield.’

It’s hard to dispute that that isn’t London in a nutshell. There is something equally distilled in the simple and flat coloured planes of Cox’s paintings. His work humanises these huge estates by focusing on small details; doors, railings, washing, even a patchwork of tiles. 

It’s no surprise that Cox was named as one of It’s Nice That’s 2016 Graduates, and you can see one of the Aylesbury estate paintings in the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition at the ICA until 22 January. As the ICA notes say: ‘Deliberately omitting the portrayal of people, Coxʼs paintings convey an eerie sense of suspense and emptiness’ – arguably also an apt description of the soulless endemic of ex-council estate redevelopments.

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