Jackie Wullschlager has Anish Kapoor to Lunch with the FT and gets this deep background on his path to becoming an artist:
Kapoor’s maternal family came from Baghdad, emigrating to India where his grandfather was cantor of the Pune synagogue – I question him about his mother.
“My mother? Oh God, don’t ask! God knows!” he answers hastily, adding without enthusiasm, “It was a great childhood.” The oldest of three brothers, Kapoor left India at 17 for Israel: “My parents were very cosmopolitan, we grew up with Judaism as a cultural reality, a family reality, rather than a religious one – which is right, I believe in that.”
Initially, he lived on a kibbutz, then studied engineering before realising “it really wasn’t for me, it was too tight. I went back to the kibbutz and decided I had to be an artist. I got myself a little studio and made some really bad paintings. My parents weren’t over the moon. I was so young and so naive. I’d hardly looked at any art, hardly ever seen a painting. Then I came to art school [Hornsey College of Art] in London and felt utterly liberated. They were very difficult years emotionally, but in a way I’m grateful for them. It took me many years of psychoanalysis to get over it.”
Was the problem a standard coming-of-age neurosis? Kapoor looks vaguely amused at this understatement. “Er, no. It was much, much, much more than that. It was a sense of disorientation, not culturally, but with myself, which I needed to live with, understand, be less afraid of. Perhaps I was also coming to terms with an idea that I wanted to do something. No – wait, it’s difficult to find the right words – a sensation that I had something to do, but I didn’t know how to do it and didn’t know if I could allow myself to do it.
“The first years when I was making art, I felt as if I didn’t exist if I didn’t work. Now I don’t. The work got better when I didn’t feel that. Now I’ve allowed the work to be the work, I can be me, and somehow we can live together.”