Anish Kapoor: Painting

Tony Richardson takes a look at an important new exhibition of Anish Kapoor's paintings and sculptures, now on show in Oxford.


Modern Art Oxford  2 October 2021 – 13 February 2022

In many ways this is a hard exhibition to take; on entering the main gallery, my partner nearly walked out straight away.

The paintings and sculptures are a mass of blood and what appear to be body parts.

On closer examination the paintings were quite dramatic, mostly taking on the appearance of mountains erupting. Seeing the volcanic lava in Las Palmas recently on TV strengthened this impression.

The viewer can see a lot in the paintings, the volcanic appearance, but also several appear to be of a beheaded body, that is, a neck at the end of a long body, in fact this sort of severed neck appears somewhere in most of the paintings.

The programme says these are in the long tradition, stretching back to before the Renaissance, of drawings and paintings of flagellation, beheading of saints and war atrocities, which it calls ‘precursors of these energetic abstractions’.

The mass of blood takes me back to my first visit to a major exhibition, at the Tate in the early 60s, of Chaim Soutine’s paintings of huge carcasses in a French abattoir.

Kapoor’s paintings I could appreciate, they are very dramatic, and you could look at them more than once and not just think of earth and blood. They are incredibly well painted and I think they are exciting works of art.

But the sculptures I did not like, they stressed violence, they even had drip trays for the blood, this seemed to me to be violence for the sake of it. The violence is from the inside of the bodies, quite different from most works of art that show it from the outside, it seems to make it more shocking and with less purpose.

This compared to somebody like Soutine, who for example seems to be saying this is the reality of your world, these are what makes your meal. This is your bloody world.

Kapoor made most of this work during the pandemic, but he stresses in interview that it is the job of artists to express a political opinion, but not in their art.

As Kapoor is such a major British artist, it is a coup for Modern Art Oxford (MAO) expressing his political views. He opposed Brexit, and calls our current government a ‘bunch of fucking liars’. He says the government supports right-wing social entrenchment and describes the putting of their people on the boards of museums as a form of Taliban’.

COVID wise the exhibition was very safe with compulsory booking and limited numbers and MAO has a very spacious cafeteria.

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