The best black

Last week I shared with you a little about Vantablack and that Anish Kapoor secured exclusive rights to use it in his art. I mentioned that although the Vantablack product is interesting, there were enough limitations that made it impractical as a material for art.

Since its introduction, Surrey NanoSystems has improved the technology to the point that some of the early practical limitations have been addressed. While the original Vantablack relied on perfectly aligned nanotubules to achieve the perfect black, engineers learned that perfect alignment wasn’t actually necessary, allowing for a sprayed-on application (as opposed to building up the nanotubules layer by layer). This new version, Vantablack S-VIS, opens the doors to new possibilities, and, naturally, Surry NanoSystems is marketing their technology as widely as they are able. The difficulty comes from the fact that artists (minus Kapoor) are singularly excluded from licensing the technology.

The exclusive use by Kapoor of Vantablack (and by extension Vantablack S-VIS) didn’t sit well with the arts community in general; however, there is one person in particular who has become the de facto leader of the arts community’s response – Stuart Semple. Semple is a British painter and he was so excited when he learned about Vantablack that he called Surrey NanoSystems to ask if he could use it in his artwork, only to be told about Kapoor’s arrangement. He was more than a little surprised. According to Stemple, “An artist acquiring the rights to a process was, like, completely unheard of. There’s no other substance on the planet that artists are the only people banned from using.”

Despite his disappointment, Semple’s involvement in the story might have ended there had it not been for a simple exchange with an audience member at a talk he gave at the Denver Museum of Art. When asked what his favorite color was, Semple quipped that it was Vantablack – and that he wasn’t allowed to use it. He was then asked the follow up question “What are you going to do about it?” and without more than a moment’s thought, he replied “I’m going to release my pink, but not allow Anish Kapoor to use it.” True to his word, he began marketing Pinkest Pink through his website with the following licensing agreement:

By adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make its way into that hands of Anish Kapoor. #sharetheblack

Semple didn’t actually think that he’d sell much product but he inadvertently struck a nerve with the other artists.

It didn’t take long for the orders to far outpace his own production capabilities and as the orders grew to the thousands, he enlisted the help of his family to meet the demand. Many of his customers shared their work on social media (#sharetheblack) and it didn’t take long for Kapoor to learn about Semple and his Pinkest Pink.  (You can see his PG-13 response here.)

What started out as a tongue and cheek response to Vantablack then became something more. The success of Pinkest Pink might have been enough for Semple to attempt a blackest black pigment but that success also came with request after request for a new black. With that encouragement, Semple set out to create a product made by artists and for artists (except, of course, for Anish Kapoor).

Black 1.0 was released early in 2017 but Semple felt that there was room for improvement. From there, he collaborated with others to produce a black with similar shape disruption qualities to Vantablack and the result, Black 2.0, is impressive. Unlike Vantablack S-VIS, Black 2.0 is cheap, easy to use, readily available, and even smells good. In my opinion, Semple’s success with Black 2.0 really is the happy ending.

To order Black 2.0, please visit Stuart Semple’s web store.  As of this writing, a 150 ml bottle costs £11.99.

A unicorn head painted with Semple's Black 2.0 has similar visual properties to Vantablack. https://www.wired.com/story/vantablack-anish-kapoor-stuart-semple/, accessed 6/23/17

A unicorn head painted with Semple’s Black 2.0 has similar visual properties to Vantablack.
https://www.wired.com/story/vantablack-anish-kapoor-stuart-semple/, accessed 6/23/17

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