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  • Writer's pictureRomina Rosso

Anish Kapoor: The Illusion of the form

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2006
Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2006

Anish Kapoor is worldwide known as one of the most important British sculptors.

Kapoor was born in 1954 in Mumbai, India, and at the age of 19 he decided to become an artist and left for London to attend Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea School of Art and Design.

He was awarded of several international prizes. In 1990 Kapoor represented Britain at the XLIV Venice Biennale, when he was awarded the Premio Duemila Prize. In 1991, he received the Turner Prize and in 2002 received the Unilever Commission for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.

In 2011 he won the Praemium Imperiale, is an international art prize awarded by the Imperial family of Japan on behalf of the Japan Art Association. On February 2017 Kapoor, who is Jewish, was rewarded by the Genesis Prize, which recognises individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their fields and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and the State of Israel.

Anish Kapoor is one of the most influential sculptors of his generation, he became famous for his huge and small sculptures, public and private, masterpieces in the form and feats of engineering.

In his sculptures and installations, the artist always uses the sensory engagement of the viewers in a perceptive dimension that has the purpose to play with the senses and to change the space.

Full and empty, concave and convex, outside and inside, sky and ground: his sculptures are abstracts and conceptual, often enigmatic.

Forms turn themselves inside out, and materials are not painted but impregnated with colours, as if to negate the idea of an outer surface, inviting the viewer to the inner reaches of the imagination.

Kapoor started his career in the 1980s with his geometric or biomorphic sculptures using simple materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment and plaster, usually monochromatic and brightly coloured, using powder pigment to define and permeate the form.

Anish Kapoor, 1000 Names, 1979-80
Anish Kapoor, 1000 Names, 1979-80

Anish Kapoor, Mother as a Mountain, 1985
Anish Kapoor, Mother as a Mountain, 1985

He started the series a Thousand Names and Mother as a Mountain. The powder on the floor defines the surface of the floor and the objects appear to be partially submerged, like icebergs covered by saturated colours that fall on the floor as a simple powders and pigments.

His inspiration for the shape of these sculptures come from a trip in Japan, where the artist discovered the aesthetic of the zen gardens connected with knowledge and pure lines, where a stone is never just a stone. The satured colours came from his Hinduism background and from the little mountains of pure colours outside the Hindu temple.

The red colour is a symbol of life (mother’s uterus) and death (grave) and together they give a sense of eternity and mystery to his works.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Kapoor was acclaimed for his explorations of matter and non-matter: many of his sculptures seem to recede into the distance, disappear into the ground or distort the space around them.

He plays with dualities as earth-sky, matter-spirit, lightness-darkness, visible-invisible, conscious-unconscious, male-female, and body-mind.

His art brought him to reconsider and analyse the Plato’s Myth of Cave in his work Descent into Limbo.

 Anish Kapoor’s Descent into Limbo 1992,installation at the Serralves museum in Porto, Portugal.
Anish Kapoor’s Descent into Limbo 1992, installation at the Serralves museum in Porto, Portugal.

The work is a 2,5-meter-deep hole, coloured by the darkest black. It meant to trick the eye into thinking that what you are seeing is a flat 2-D drawing on the floor.

Kapoor describes his interest for holes or empty spaces as “a sensual uncertainty”, that creates a series of forces both external and internal, physical and unconscious.

Since 1995, he has worked with the highly reflective surface of polished stainless steel.

These works are mirror-like, reflecting or distorting the viewer and surroundings.

In 2014 he created the Sky Mirror series, consisting of large concave mirrors facing upwards and placed outdoors.

The artist’s Sky Mirrors similarly warp the viewer’s perception of surrounding space, tricking them into thinking that the sky is tumbling down to terrestrial realms.

As the work is en plein air, it is subject to weather conditions and changing of seasons and as a result, the work is perpetually in process, losing its material form as it dissolves into its surroundings.

In all its paradoxically harmonious contradictions, Sky Mirror wonderfully exemplifies Kapoor’s capacity to provoke existential thought and dreamlike visions. Its scale feels grand enough to encapsulate and engulf what has before been deemed ungraspable, unfathomable, grand beyond reach: the vastness of the sky itself.

The most famous work of Kapoor is placed in Chicago in the Millennium Park, it is one of the attractions of the city, it is named Cloud Gate but it is better Known as The Bean. It was constructed between 2004 and 2006.

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2006
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2006

Long 20 meters, tall 10 meters and weighs 110 short tons, the sculpture’s design was inspired by liquid mercury and it is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, its highly polished exterior has no visible seams.

Chicago is the perfect city for the Cloud Gate with its unexpected weather conditions, the sculpture reflects the sky, the skyscrapers and the people, warping everything and giving back a different reality.

After 10 years of its construction, The Cloud Gate was the subject of a curious experiment.

On February 2016, Anish Kapoor bought, as an exclusive licensed in the artworld, the Vantablack, a material that is one of the darkest substances known, absorbing up to 99.965% of visible light, giving the sensation of a flat surface. Kapoor, the only artist in the world allowed use to this colour, colored the Cloud Gate transforming it into a big flat black hole.

Anish Kapoor Coats “Cloud Gate” in the Darkest Black Known, 2016
Anish Kapoor Coats “Cloud Gate” in the Darkest Black Known, 2016

This give a sense of introspection, disorientation, lost and covered in the oppressive emptiness of nothing.

In this period, Kapoor experimented more complex shapes and spaces in his huge installations.

In 2002 Kapoor created the work Marsyas, long 150 and tall 10 meters in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern.

Anish Kapoor, Marsyas 2002, Turbine Hall, Tate Modern London
Marsyas 2002, Tate Modern

He comprises three steel rings joined together by a single span of PVC membrane to use the length of the Turbine Hall.

The title refers to Marsyas, a satyr in Greek mythology, who was flayed alive by the god Apollo.

The sculpture’s dark red colour suggests something of the physical, of the earthly, of the bodily.

In 2011 at Grand Palais of Paris he showed another massive artwork called the Leviathan tall 35 meters, a work that gave strong emotion and intimidation for his dimension.

Kapoor described the work as: "A single object, a single form, a single colour...My ambition is to create a space with in a space that responds to the height and luminosity of the Nave at the Grand Palais. Visitors will be invited to walk inside the work, to immerse themselves in colour, and it will, I hope, be a contemplative and poetic experience."

The name came from the Bible where the Leviathan is a creature with the form of a sea serpent of huge dimension and with scary strength.

Anish Kapoor, Leviathan, 2011, Grand Palais, Paris
Anish Kapoor, Leviathan, 2011, Grand Palais Paris

In 2012 he realised the Britain's largest piece of public art as a permanent lasting legacy of London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The work is sited in Stradford, between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, and titled the ArcelorMittal Orbit. It is a 114.5-meter-high sculpture and observation tower.

Steel structure designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, it was partially funded by ArcelorMittal.

The shape is inspired by the DNA and it is a spiral that the visitors can visit till the top.

Anish Kapoor, ArcelorMittal Orbit, 2012
Anish Kapoor, ArcelorMittal Orbit, 2012

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