I had the opportunity, last week, to spend a short time at the Anish Kapoor ‘Flashback’ exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park Link Here. It’s a travelling exhibition that has also been in Manchester and Nottingham, with around a dozen or so varied pieces of work from different stages of his career. Coincidentally, I’d just read an interview with him in one of the newspapers over the previous weekend in which he’d talked about the way he always works (or directs others to work, since he clearly has a large team of assistants doing most of the day-to-day stuff) on a wide range of projects at any one time, in very different forms, materials and scales. As the images in the link demonstrate, this small show included examples of his use of vivid colours, with varying materials and surfaces. It was, as I say, a short visit, but I was particularly interested in his ‘voids’, for example Adam, in which he is ‘creating a state of emptiness’, as it says in the accompanying brochure, leaving the viewer with the sense of looking at nothing. (Reminds me of walking into a room full of black paintings at the Rothko exhibition a few years ago.) The brochure goes on to quote Kapoor as saying that he seeks to empty out content and make an empty form but that, of course, “... content is there in a way that’s more surprising than if I’d tried to make a content ... subject matter is somehow not the same as content”.
I’ve got myself into this area of subject matter and content or meaning before, in this earlier post. It made me go off and do a bit more digging for what Kapoor had to say about it, which led me to this transcript of an interview. Some key points emerging are:
· He looks to put subject matter out of the way and, by that means, something else occurs; his objects primary purpose is not interpretative;
· He believes that you cannot set out to create something spiritual; that comes from other resonances;
· The spiritual world is latent and the artist finds this latent content;
· He makes art for himself and then the viewer completes the circle (Barthes – the death of the author); though he acknowledges that the artist can use titling and context to manipulate and seek to invest meaning; but he is interested in the viewer’s immediate translation, and the ‘theoretical stuff comes later’.
So, he seems to see the artist as a kind of ‘medium’, through which the creativity flows from some unknown spiritual source, into the world, where the viewer reads, possibly with some guidance, a spiritual meaning and content in the work. This almost certainly reflects his Indian roots, one feels – this mystical, spiritual explanation of his creative process. It isn’t something with which I can comfortably relate – steeped in 60+ years of solid Western capitalist materialistic influence. Mind you, the previous interview I’d read (Sunday Times, I think) mentioned Kapoor’s £80m+ wealth, but I will resist the temptation to be cynical. The ‘voids’ did touch me, and I can see how his work does indeed interact powerfully with the viewer.
I did also pick up another relationship between some aspects of his work and the field of photography – surfaces, and the absorbing/reflecting of light. It’s interesting to compare the deep matte blue surfaces of his voids that absorb light and absorb the viewer’s gaze, with the reflective, shiny surfaces, which return the gaze. In the exhibition brochure, he refers to the matte surface as the ‘traditional sublime ... deep and absorbing’ but says that the mirrored surfaces ‘... might be a modern sublime ... absolutely present ...’. I just wonder about this comparison in the context of photographic surfaces – the surface of the print. Personally, I have tended to work mainly with matte papers, but I know that this approach is sometimes criticised because of the absorptive nature of the surface – absorptive of the light by which the viewer is viewing, that is. Interesting that Kapoor sees that as relating to the ‘traditional sublime’. If what he says is right, printing on a matte surface should have the effect of drawing in the viewer’s gaze, which is surely what we want to do with a photographic print!