TOt 67, Anish kapoorWith a knighthood, a Turner Prize and a retrospective at the Venice Biennale next year, he seems determined to shed his own artistic skin. Like Marsyas, the satyr flayed alive by Apollo, whose bloody fate Kapoor once commemorated in a 150-meter-long, 10-story tall sculpture, the artist is exposing his insides. That is the only way to describe your latest work. One of the world’s most renowned sculptors is about to go public as, well, a painter. However, it is the content of the works that he is about to reveal that may be disconcerting. “They are very, very violent,” he confesses. “And I wonder what the hell that has to do with what’s in me. I can’t sit here and psychoanalyze them. I do not know how. But I recognize that it is there. “
The works, about to be exhibited at Modern Art Oxford, they are beautifully painted but brutal: full of images of bloodshed, beheading and disembowelment. Kapoor seems to have taught himself to paint the human figure in order to desecrate it. In his London studio, there are stacks of these blood-soaked canvases depicting huge chunks of wounded bodies and purple organs splattered on the walls.
“Ow!” He says. “I am not doing it intellectually. I just wanted to make a quasi-feminine figure with many breasts and see what would happen. Could you unwrap her flawless exterior and look at her troubled interior, full of blood and guts and breasts and bits and pieces and all that? Fuck knows. Freud would have a field day. “
Kapoor isn’t exactly an inhibited talker. We meet twice, in his gallery, then in his studio. The weekend in between, he gives a speech to Censorship index in which he warns against “self-censorship.” And the flow of images and ideas in our discussion is certainly a masterclass on how not to censor yourself. Throwing provocations and theories, he tries to explain what he is doing.
“I am doing what I have always done, which is to seek some primordial ritual act. If one takes that to its logical conclusion, the primordial ritual act has to be murder or sacrifice. On Freud’s Moses and monotheism Initially it talks about how Moses was not Jewish but Egyptian, which I quite like, but from there, it comes down to the idea that Moses was killed. Moses was sacrificed. “
In case anyone doesn’t understand, the paintings are accompanied by enigmatic doorway sculptures and stepped buildings like Aztec pyramids, on large metal trays flowing with large pictorial globes of red matter. Human sacrifice has influenced many cultures. For Kapoor, it’s part of what religion is: “Its purpose has to be to ask ridiculous questions like, ‘Where do I go after I die?’ Or, ‘Where was he before he was born?’ The public display of the victim, the public sacrifice, somehow helps us, although it is completely contradictory. We believe that the energy of civilization is going in a different direction. But apparently this is not the case. “
These are unusual ideas and impulses to show off to the public. In the gallery of his London dealer, we pause in front of a triptych of three large canvases depicting what at first glance appear to be sensual, blooming flowers. Then you notice a headless neck full of blood, and the flowers turn out to be exposed anatomies. What’s the matter? “Diana of Ephesus who has 10,000 breasts… she is there. So I think what was on my mind was Diana’s sacrifice, the opening, the revelation of what is inside her body. You will see that the only thing left, in a way, is her vagina. Everything else is open. “
The vagina has become a major issue for Kapoor. There was a fight in France over his Versailles sculpture, Dirty Corner, which was nicknamed “the queen’s vagina”. So what about vaginas? Kapoor responds, unexpectedly, in terms of Marxist anthropology. “There is an anthropologist who interests me a lot and who is rare,” he says. “A man named Chris Knight who wrote a book called Blood relations, in which he speculates that the first crop was made by women and that it came from menstruation. That women who lived together, especially in small groups, menstruated together and that they used red ocher to cover their bodies and hide their periods. He speculates that the first acts of culture had to do with this act of solidarity ”.
The oldest known artistic material is in fact red ocher, which was used in Blombos Cave in South Africa until 80,000 years ago. Produces a strong red pigment: ocher-red handprints and animal images survive in rock art. Kapoor can’t get enough of it either. “I have an obsession with red. My favorite color of all, the one I wear by the ton, is Alizirin crimson. It is a very dark bloody burgundy red wine. The interesting thing about red is that it ties in with black in an incredibly easy way. Red creates great darkness. And of course you could say that red is completely an interior color. “
So Kapoor’s paintings aren’t that far from his sculpture after all. Since the 1980s, he has used color to unleash the cosmic and the inner, from his earliest works, in which he spread crude pigment on small objects, to Descent into Limbo, a 2.5m deep hole painted with a black so dark that the drop seems infinite. (and in which a spectator fell). “Color is deeply illusionistic,” he says. “Deep space is something that I’m constantly in conversation with, the way color affects deep space, in ways that are indescribable with words.”
In his study, among the bloody canvases, there is a black pill on a white background, encased in a glass tank. He asks me what I think it is. Of one thing I am sure: it is flat. Then he makes me look sideways. It is not flat at all – it sticks out in space, a solid diamond shape. The optical illusion is mind-boggling. “So this is one of these new jobs done with the blackest material in the universe,” he says. “It’s a case because the material is highly toxic and incredibly brittle, especially to saliva, so you can’t talk in front of it. It is a nano material. And what happens is that the light enters and basically remains trapped and does not escape ”.
It catches 98.8% of the light, “blacker than a black hole”. When Kapoor obtained the exclusive artistic rights to this material a few years ago, there was a little hoo-ha. You can even purchase a “blacker blacker” acrylic paint, created by self-described rival Stuart Semple, with the caveat that by ordering, “you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, that you are in no way affiliated with Anish Kapoor, they are not purchasing this article on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor “.
The whole row is silly, because Kapoor’s actual black nano material is dangerous, difficult to use, and has taken years to become works of art. He shows me 19 more of these strange spatial illusions in an upper room of his study. Next year they will be unveiled at the Venice Academy fair. They take a lifetime of color research to a sublime extreme. Is it a cliche to ask if this fascination with color was influenced by your childhood in India? “I think that part of my relationship with color has to be cultural. This propensity for red has to have something of that. I think of Picasso and his relationship with his Spanish roots. They were with him always, the dark mythological forces playing ”.
In fact, when I press him to explain how his bloody canvases reflect his own psyche, as opposed to anthropological ideas, he comes up with a poignant story about India, displacement, and the healing power of ritual. “I grew up in India,” he says. “I was there until I was 17, 18. My mother was Jewish, so my brother and I went to Israel. And I had the most frightening, terrible nervous breakdown. He could hardly walk. I had an aunt who lived in Israel and my mother came to visit me. And my aunt, who had a kind of shamanic predilection, said to my mother, “You must go back to India and you must bring some earth and you must put it under Anish’s bed.” Sorry Jonathan, this sometimes makes me want to cry. But anyway, I’ll tell you. And then my mother, bless her, went to India and bought some land and put it under my bed, and my aunt said further: ‘You can dream well about this matter.’ Wow! You know it took me years to recognize the power of this thing. It gives me goose bumps. I’m sorry, but it gives me goose bumps. “
Kapoor is an artist who pushes you to the limit. He can make you contemplate the most important questions. His new paintings are not so much a way out as a key to everything he has ever done, plundering religion and myth to wonder why human beings have always been driven to reflect on the mystery of being. “I have practiced Buddhism for a long, long time,” he says. Zen practice. I care. I really believe that we are religious beings. Where do I come from? Who am I? It’s me? Where I go? Those are questions that baffle us all. “