Anish Kapoor @ Lisson

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Anish Kapoor, Installation view, Lisson Gallery London, 2017. Photo by Dave Morgan, copyright Anish Kapoor; Courtesy Lisson Gallery

The inside of the Lisson Gallery looks like it has just been taken over by Martians. There is red everywhere. Large unexplained craters are lying around the gallery space, while images of abstract forms appear on the walls. The current environment at Lisson however, has not been left in such a state by visitors from Mars, but has in fact, been created especially by Anish Kapoor in what is his sixteenth show with the gallery.

Domineering the exhibition space is a series of three mesh-covered structures that look both volcanic and bloody. They could pass for hot volcanic rock or the remnants of some piece of cosmic matter, thrown onto Earth by accident. These sculptural works that have landed at Lisson are a mix of silicon, fabric and paint. Kapoor has explained that he is interested in the surface layer of an object: its skin. These particular coverings look like they have been turned inside out, so that the skin is now revealing its unappetising undersides to the viewer. In fact, the red tones of the work have prompted many to liken them to the human body, with the amorphous shapes being comparable to bodily tumours. The works appear like giant deformities incased in net. They almost appear to provoke the viewer to form a negative opinion about them, when really; you just want to learn more. They are not exactly pretty, but not hideously grotesque either. In these works, it would seem, that Kapoor has removed the outer skin, to reveal what has been hidden on the inside.

Accompanying the geological forms are two smoother works, entitled Horizon (Red), and It gleamed like blood. They are the complete opposite of the cystic triptych Internal Object in Three Parts. Where the bulbous, rocky works may reveal the interior, these forms represent the perfect exterior. Both consist of large disks; It gleamed like blood is covered in a smooth, matt red lacquer that is just begging to be touched. Had you not known the title of the work, you would have no inkling that this shroud of loveliness had been named after a vital fluid. Horizon (Red), with its less gory title is half lacquer and half concave mirror. While its top half is opaque, its bottom asks the viewer to look at its own exterior shell in an unfavourable reflection. Prompting the audience to consider their own skin and their understanding and perception of it.

While the sculpture is what grabs the audience’s attention at the beginning of the exhibition, the paintings are just as arresting. The gouache works on paper are mostly abstract splashes of red with hints of black. While some are a delicate display of the collision of colour, others are violent. In a series of three works titled Tongue, a pointed form that looks like a thorn has aggressively pierced the ‘skin’ causing a painful patch of scarlet around a wound. Kapoor has stated surprise at how an object defines itself by its skin. This painting is a rude invasion of an object or body’s defining feature, where it has been brutally attacked by a foreign item. If the thorn is supposed to represent a tongue, then it has been violently sharpened to become a weapon.

Besides the Tongue paintings, there are a number of other images composed of gouache on paper in apocalyptic displays of pinks and reds against dark backgrounds. Kapoor has managed to represent explosions on paper where half of the images look as though a bomb has exploded in a fiery haze, while the others show black holes amongst swirls of intense reds and oranges. These black voids amongst the maroon-red backdrops suggest the opening up of the skin. However, they do not disclose what is inside. Kapoor has likened paintings to veils, and while in these images he gets close to removing them, the covering has only been partially lifted.

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Amongst the red heat and black darkness that encompasses the majority work on display, there is one painting that is a complete embodiment of light. In Luna, a mustard yellow flame appears in the centre of the paper, with a stroke of orange running through its centre. One can imagine it flickering gently amongst the darkness. It appears as though Kapoor finally reveals the essence of what is truly behind his painted veils. It is not dark at all, but pure light.

Anish Kapoor is on display at Lisson until 6 May

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine and Reorient.

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