Writers & Company

The striking works of Anish Kapoor challenge our ideas about art and reality

In this 2015 interview, the Indian-born British sculptor talks to Eleanor Wachtel about why his work manipulates our perception of space, colour and form.
Anish Kapoor in his studio’s library room in Camberwell, South London. (Eleanor Wachtel/CBC)
Listen to the full episode50:59

Anish Kapoor is one of the most influential sculptors of his generation. Known for iconic works of public art in cities around the world, his best-known pieces include Cloud Gate (nicknamed The Bean), a mirrored steel form in Chicago's Millennium Park; and an enigmatic red tower in London's Olympic Park called The Orbit. These, as well as temporary, travelling pieces, such as his Sky Mirror, have become landmark attractions. 

Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai in 1954 to an Iraqi Jewish mother and Punjabi Hindu father. Since the early 1970s he has lived and worked in London, crafting imaginative, large-scale objects with a team of helpers in his south London studio. In 2013, Kapoor was honoured with a knighthood for his services to visual art. In 2015, his image was woven into the design of Britain's passport. 

Anish Kapoor talked to Eleanor Wachtel in the library of his London studio in November 2015. 

Out of India

"My parents were cosmopolitan, relatively modern and completely disconnected from the religious side of both heritages, Indian and Jewish. A sense of community, especially with the Jewish side, is the one thing that my brothers and I inherited. We were always aware of being Jewish.

"My mother was very keen for my younger brother and I to leave India to go and study abroad. Because my parents were not at all affluent, we were put on a plane at ages 16 and 17 to Israel. We were taken in as new immigrants to Israel in 1970. We spent a few weeks on a kibbutz and then we were shipped off to Be'er Sheva which was termed a desert town but  it was literally a bunch of Bedouin tents.

"Be'er Sheva University was a fledgling school full of new immigrants mostly from Russia. We were thrown in with that lot. I lasted six months. It was a very unhappy six months. I was deeply disorientated. It was a formative time for me. I went back to the kibbutz and it slowly dawned on me that what I really wanted to do was be an artist. But I didn't know how to articulate that and break the news to my parents."

Objects of fascination

"I was making things all the time as a child but I grew up convinced that I was going to be an engineer. My father was a professional and the family heritage, if you like, was to be a professional. I quickly realized that it was not for me.

"I've always been fascinated by objects. I suppose I'm an object or we are all objects. That object space and body space are so very close to each other. They are the same perhaps — we infiltrate each other. 

"One of my first gestures as a so-called professional was with objects made out of colour and pigment. Colour has this curious 'otherness' to it. It's never as described — the red thing we talk about isn't the red thing we see. The condition of colour does something transportive."

Colour has this curious 'otherness' to it. It's never as described — the red thing we talk about isn't the red thing we see. The condition of colour does something transportive."

Where I create

"I have five or six bases in which I conduct different kinds of research. The studio is a place to make things, but mostly I see it as a laboratory where I'm trying things out.

"My process is experimental. I'm after certain states of matter which, occasionally, I bump into and they lead me to the next place."

The perception of colour and form

"It would seem that three-dimensional form and colour are contradictory to each other. It's as if colour, at least the way that I've come to read it, is a condition. It's rather like going into a shower and you're in the condition of wetness. When you feel heat, it's a condition: it's warmth and heat. Similarly, colour is a condition. It's not just a retinal activation.

"Form is exactly the opposite. It's a potential container. I'm looking to make things where the two are inseparable and that you couldn't imagine it otherwise. It has that inevitable 'as is' condition. I was looking for, and still am, a condition of things that is singular — and I'd go so far as to say absolute." 

Writers & Company: Anish Kapoor

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      Anish Kapoor's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

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