Norman Rosenthal on Anish Kapoor: Out of the Dark

Norman Rosenthal on Anish Kapoor: Out of the Dark

Norman Rosenthal, guiding force behind the artist's first silkscreen print, reflects on his relationship with artworks by Anish Kapoor – shiny, dirty and sublime – since they first crossed paths in 1978.

5 min read

abstract blue artwork by Anish Kapoor

I first encountered Anish Kapoor – his work – in 1978 at the Hayward Gallery in a show called New Sculpture. I remember the work itself very well. It was all about pigment and it was very beautiful. He was always an interesting artist to me, but it wasn’t until considerably later that I had my Saul-Paul moment and became a fan. Until then I largely associated Anish with 'shiny' sculptures, which I came to love once I understood their position within the totality of his work – particularly in the context of what I call his ‘dirty’ work. What I like about Anish is the way that, when looking at his output, he and we are constantly thinking about duality.

A Flower, A Drama Like Death (1986)

By contrast to his paintings, many of Kapoor's sculptures are characterised by the absence of tangible human touch.

Internal Object in Three Parts (2013-2015) at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2015

Formally, this idea between perfection and dirtiness is a very central thing in his life. He is profoundly conscious of colour, he is very conscious of space but above all I think he is conscious of the madness of existence – that every blade of grass, every wave and every fire is here on this strange planet that we happen to inhabit. I think the essence of his work is that – like all great artists – it is always recognisable as his. A Picasso is always a Picasso, a Baselitz is always a Baselitz, a de Kooning is always a de Kooning and a Kapoor is, equally, always a Kapoor.

Svayambhu (2007) at the Royal Academy in London, part of an exhibition curated by Norman Rosenthal in 2009

The artwork that actually got me going was his famous train that I saw in the Haus Der Kunst. It wasn’t the first place it had been shown, but it was shown there incredibly effectively. I happened to be in Munich. There was an Anish Kapoor exhibition and so off I went, naturally, and I was completely overwhelmed by this work that was all about red. It was called Svayambhu (2007), which means self-generating. The train moved – red wax leaving its mark on the walls of the gallery. Or Shooting into the Corner (2008-2009), where a cannon shoots wax into the corner of a room to enormous effect. The artist is in control, and yet not in control. There's always a sense with Anish that the work is self-generative, even though it comes out of his mind.

Shooting into the Corner (2009)

His output is considerable, but at the same time each work is very considered. They are endless in their variety but all exist within his idea of abstraction and within his idea of nature. For him, nature and abstraction are very close as concepts. The blade of grass but also vast seas, desserts, mountains and skies. Dark skies, blue skies. The waves and the sea. Each great artist, and there are not that many of them, finds their own way of describing the infinite from a human point of view.

Anish has always painted, he’s always made drawings, but in most people's minds they’ve taken second place to his three dimensional work. Many of his recent paintings have been dominated by red – like volcanoes, Etnas, but also like blood. He likes to turn the body inside out. We have a kind of cleanness outside of ourselves but, whatever or whoever we are, inside there is turmoil. Inside our bodies, inside every single human body, there is incredible and almost inexplicable turmoil. We're all of us mad machines. Every animal is a unique mad machine, whether it's an ant or a cow. We are also animals, and what makes the animal go? Anish Kapoor has found ways of getting us to think about that. Art is there, if possible, to make us think, and I dare say there’s not just red inside our bodies but blue as well. What I read into this blue, above all, is capturing what is fundamentally uncapturable – time. How do you capture time?

My Body, Your Body (1993)

God's Advice to Adam (2022)

Many of his works are about looking where you can't actually see the end or the bottom. It goes back to the world of an artist like Caspar David Friedrich, who was also very interested in infinity – in looking beyond. You only have to look up on a starry night or gaze into a fog, whatever the weather is, and bother to think about it. You know, we spend a lot of time not thinking about what we are seeing. Artists, of course, whether it's Hockney or Rothko, are constantly thinking about where they are and how to describe where they are. Anish has found a very particular, special, instantly recognisable and personal way of doing this.

Wandered Above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich (1818)

Of course his work does have an affinity with Rothko because it deals, in its own way, with ideas of infinity, and this particular print also reminds me of a great wave. The Great Wave (1831), if you like. It’s the kind of thing you can look at forever, and will never quite see, but at the same time always see. Every morning, like a wave, it will be slightly different.

Great prints can be wonderful. Like all works of art, they're souvenirs of a particular imagination. You can go out and buy a very expensive work of art, and in itself it's not the whole story. Similarly, this work is not the whole story, but it sits within the whole story and so enables you to identify with the whole story – with the cosmos that Anish has made, which is both sexual and refers to nature. All of these things are related.

Out of the Dark

With his first silkscreen Anish Kapoor opens a deep ultramarine fissure. Printed in 24 layers and signed by the artist, the edition will be available to order for 7 days only from 11-18 December 2023.

I am thrilled to share my first silkscreen print and to collaborate with Avant Arte on this new edition, and look forward to participating in a project that takes artwork to a wider audience.

Anish Kapoor

Anish Kapoor

Sir Anish Kapoor was born in 1954 in Mumbai, India. Today, he lives and works between London and Venice. He’s won the Turner Prize,, taken over the Tate’s Turbine Hall and installed monumental public artworks in cities around the world.

Norman Rosenthal

Sir Norman Rosenthal, born 1944 in London, is an independent curator and art historian. He has worked at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Royal Academy, and is closely tied to the YBAs and artists like Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer and Anish Kapoor.

Out of the Dark is the first in a series of limited edition prints conceived in collaboration with Avant Arte.



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