Bombay India, lives and works in London
At the start of the 1980s there emerged several young sculptors whose work received international attention under the heading New British Sculpture. Though not a coherent group, they seemed to be linked by a pursuit of greater poetic expressiveness and a blurring of the boundaries between sculpture and painting. One of these artist was Anish Kapoor, whose colorful though quiet work was among the most eye-catching.
Kapoor has a multifaceted cultural background. Born in India, of a Hindustan father and a Jewish mother, he spent his childhood in the fairly Western city of Bombay. After receiving his training as an artist in England, Kapoor made a journey through India in 1979, and this provided him with a new perspective on his home country. Small sanctuaries along the side of the road and little piles of pigment sold for cosmetic and ritual use at the entrances of temples, for instance, influenced the development of his work.
The use of pigment contributed to the surprising appearance of 1000 Names, an entity of works produced between 1979 and 1981. In each of these works, a number of indefinable forms are placed on the floor in small groups, while a single form protrudes from the wall. These are completely covered with loose pigment powder (in brilliant red, yellow, bright blue, white), by which their contours are softened. The elements give rise to associations with architecture, then with organic forms – and often with something between the two: forms in transition, somewhere between nature and the abstract. The pigment embodies a contradiction that Kapoor wished to express: the sensuality of material and color and the impossibility of touching this without disturbing the image.
During the course of the eighties, intense colors disappeared from Kapoor’s work. The forms that were initially so outward turn inward to surround a dark cavity. The remarkable Void Field, for instance, with which Great Britain was represented at the Venice Biennial of 1990, consists of sixteen rough blocks of sandstone which seem to have come directly from the quarry. On top of each stone, however, is a puzzling black hole: a hollowing in the stone, coated with pigment, which leads the eye to an ambiguous inner space.
Sculptures like these are virtually the reverse of what we normally call sculpture, since its inside is certainly as essential as its outside. It is precisely the image of that empty, inner space which interests Kapoor: ‘I have always engaged with interiority, that which is inside... Interiority has become evident (...).’
In the Voids the viewer is confronted with an emptiness that can evoke fear and awe, but also longing. At the same time, Kapoor seems to think of this space as a (potential) fullness, a place where something initially unmanifest can become manifest. ‘The void has many presences,’ he says, and some of these can be found at De Pont. Here, in 1992, two works were installed in adjacent rooms. The first room contains Descent into Limbo. From a certain distance, it looks as though there is a black spot on the floor, but as one approaches it becomes evident that one is standing at the edge of an unfathomably deep hole. In the room next to this, one sees only darkness at first: Kapoor has treated the entire space with dark-blue pigment. Only after one’s eyes have adjusted to the lack of light does a blue, free-floating orb slowly loom forth in the darkness; though visible, it nevertheless has an intangible presence.
It is astonishing how Kapoor manages to make the act of observation such an intense experience. Matter appears and disappears, and the distinctions between reality and illusion, being and not being, are obscured. In recent years Kapoor seems to be in the process of transforming his themes once again. Rather than working with materials that absorb light, he is now using surfaces that are transparent or reflect light. The works are chromed, are made of polished aluminum, of alabaster, or are purely and radiantly white. The interaction of light and dark continues to intensify the perceptual experience. This can also be said with respect to When I am Pregnant, a work which has been a part of the collection since Kapoor’s exhibition at De Pont in 1995. From a frontal perspective and in broad daylight, the protrusion of the wall is barely visible. But when seen from the side, the full magnitude of the sensual and suggestive form becomes apparent.