Research – Anish Kapoor Drawings

Anish Kapoor’s drawings have a resonance with my exploration of absence and presence. He uses black gouache to visualise ideas of nothingness, a spiritual letting go of materiality. The drawings offer a window through to an alternative space or dimension. This is achieved through a negation of the surface of the support  through the use of dense, matt, black forms which the eye sinks into. He also uses red of which he says, ‘Red has a terrifying kind of darkness in it’ (Aftab, 2015).

The drawings are mysterious, compelling, contain everything and nothing. Deliberately, he invites the observer to place their own meaning on the work. Kapoor has become a Buddhist (Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas, 2006) and the drawings have a great deal in common with Zen art in which simple formalism, without perfection, seeks to create a inner state of calm detachment within the observer.

As a piece of physical research, I have experimented with black gouache and the painting of simple shapes which might or might not have a metaphysical symbolism. Before looking at Kapoor’s drawings, my sketchbook explorations were about presence/absence but here I am simply investigating the physical properties and opportunities of the medium.

I have worked ‘wet in wet’ in order to have soft edges with a tonal gradient. The whole support was washed with water on both sides before any paint added. I used the biggest brushes I have with substantial pools of paint available. I have tried to apply the paint in a few continuous strokes to achieve strong shapes and then allow the medium to move as it wishes. In a few, I tried using oil pastel as a contrasting resist, only to find that it doesn’t resist acryl gouache. The studies started off small, at A5 and grew bigger as I gained confidence.


AV Acryl Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5


Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5


Gouache, oil pastel on cartridge paper, A5

I thought I would replace the oil pastel with water colour paint, mixed strongly and see how the two reacted to each other.


Lamp black and red watercolour on cartridge paper, A5

The watercolour black was much flatter and less interesting than the gouache.

The 300gm cartridge was cockling and influence the movement of the paint so I moved to using hot pressed water colour paper. One of my fellow students once said to me that it was good idea to buy expensive paper and put it away for a while. Then, when you come to use it, you have forgotten how much it cost, and could be liberated from fear of using it freely. This is great advice which I try to follow.


Gouache, watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


Thicker gouache on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5

The fractal marks where the gouache stops spreading are fascinating. Red seems an obvious contrast to black, but what about other process colours, blue and magenta? I remember once mixing a lovely purple watercolour wash of ultramarine and quinacridone magenta only to have the colour split on the paper with the magenta travelling for miles. I have done the same here, to see how the different colour react with the black.


Gouache and watercolour on HP Saunders Waterford paper, A5


The gouache seems to repel water into the watercolour paint, but the magenta lies above the ultramarine pigment in suspension, and stays floating in the extra water, drying at a different rate.


Pools of black gouache dropped into a wet support to see how they react against each other, A4


Gouache, HP paper, A4

Here, a large mop brush full of gouache was rolled across the paper three times, creating some wonderful marks which remind me of sun spots. I seem to have travelled quite a way from Anish Kapoor here. I thought I might investigate an alternative medium which might offer the matt density of gouache, pastels.


Sennelier pastels, A5

The soft, intensely pigmented pastels offer a luscious matt surface but completely smooth tonal transitions would be dull whilst linear marks appear rather crude; an opportunity for future research.

Having used up all my small store of magenta, I returned to red, but reversed the process, painting in red and dropping in some black gouache. I limited myself to four marks with my biggest brush on the largest pieces of Saunders Waterford I have in stock.


Watercolour, gouahce, HP paper, A3


Watercolour, gouache, HP paper, A3

This final work is definitely my favourite of the day and reminds me of Louise Bourgeois drawings. Without any intent, it would be easy to infer a sexual interpretation to this image. Red is a dangerous colour with all sorts of baggage. In deciding what gesture to make in this work, I was thinking of Zen calligraphy and the Zen figure of enso, an open or closed circle, as used by artists such as Jiro Yoshihara. The way the paint has migrated here is beautiful.

These drawings offer a new vocabulary of marks which I find very exciting. I realise that my ambition for my art is to say something very simple and direct, with very simple but subtle marks. I want to create something which becomes more interesting and more complex, the closer you observe it. I want to make art where, every time you walked past it, you could pause and notice a new fascinating detail.


Aftab, K. (2015) ‘Anish Kapoor: I have Nothing to Say”’, 15 April.
Available at: (Accessed: 4 January 2017).
Anish Kapoor in Conversation with Marcello Dantas (2006)
Available at:
(Accessed: 4 January 2017).



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