Visual Arts: Kapoor: master of the sexuality within

Anish Kapoor first made his mark in brightly coloured pigments. Now he's carving pure Italian alabaster. And, says Andrew Lambirth, to richly tactile effect.

When Anish Kapoor won the Turner Prize in 1991, it was reported that he gave away the pounds 20,000 prize money to artists more needy than himself. Whether that is true or not, this charming story is a useful indication of how successful Kapoor already was seven years ago, and his standing has only improved since then.

Born in Bombay in 1954, Kapoor came to England in the early 1970s to study art. He first began to attract widespread attention in the 1980s with very beautiful, intensely coloured powder-pigment sculptures. Since then he has graduated to stone and mirrored metal. He deals much in the void - the hollowed form or echo chamber. It is the kind of work that cries out to be called spiritual. It evokes metaphysical speculation; some would say it invokes the sublime.

When an artist is taken to the international art bosom so comprehensively (Kapoor starred at the Venice Biennale of 1990), it often appears that he or she can do no wrong. It is as if the critical/ analytical function has been collectively suspended. No artist's uvre should be taken as brilliant without exception; it is a mistake to do so, and unfair to the artist as much as to the public. All sense of proportion is lost.

In 1991, for instance, an extensive show of Kapoor's drawings was mounted by the Tate Gallery. It was remarkably well received, considering that the words best suited to the exhibition were "feeble" and "overblown". Similarly with the group of nine transfer-prints currently on display upstairs at the Lisson Gallery.

They are taken from a video by the artist and printed in pigment and gelatine on a polyester base, then dry-mounted on to sheet aluminium. For someone so dextrous with textures, the surfaces of these prints are particularly bland. They look like something nasty in the Op Art vein from the 1960s. Called Wounds and Absent Objects, they are all arty hints of presences. Effluvia, really.

Kapoor is far better at dealing with solidities. Downstairs is a group of eight alabaster carvings - great raw lumps with delicate vessels carved out of them Seven of them are raised on plinths and the eighth broods on the floor like a thunder bowl.

The different textures of the stone are carefully revealed: the clawed and driven outside, all deliberate chisel marks, ranging to the mildly polished and the super-smooth. All with the distinctive veining and bruising of alabaster, the broken edges like Kendal mint cake.

Kapoor deals with the sexuality inherent in objects. He blends the physical and the spiritual: there is a religious tang to these sculptures. Some resemble the cathedral niche of a saint, but minus the saint.

Kapoor offers a window on opacity: deep holes are bored in the stone, different-sized portholes nearly meeting through the block. Light seeps through the remaining thin skin of alabaster. It's intriguing that Kapoor resists truly piercing the stone - these are holes into, but not through.

These new works are not about plangent colour: pinks and greys and chalky whites predominate. A subtlety of rust comes through deep, smoky greys. The stone (from Volterra, in Italy) invites your touch, to compare the crisp square edges with the finely rounded, the rough with the well-worked.

There is more than a whiff of the funerary monument here, such as Rodin might have essayed, and a well-timed foretaste of Kapoor's first major exhibition in a public space: he takes over the whole of the Hayward Gallery for a month and more at the end of April - a rare honour for a living artist.

Then, we'll have a real chance to assess his scope and achievement. In the meantime, enjoy this bonne bouche.

To 28 February, Lisson Gallery, 52-54 Bell Street, London NW1 (0171- 724 2739)

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