How the world’s blackest black is getting blacker

The art war continues as BLACK 2.0 hits the market, a direct swipe at Anish Kapoor's exclusively owned Vantablack

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Black is such a happy colour

Artists and goths everywhere rejoiced when, back in 2014, a nanotech company released the darkest shade of black in the world. Vantablack absorbed 99.6 per cent of light, but things have been getting a whole lot darker in recent months.

The art world has been up in arms in the past three years over the original product, after artist Anish Kapoor secured exclusive rights to use it, meaning no one else could enjoy Vantablack. This saw other artists, particularly Stuart Semple, fight back.

Semple previously worked on and released the world’s “pinkest pink” and the “glitteriest glitter”, putting them on the market for anyone to buy, except – very explicitly – Kapoor. However, an Instagram post from Kapoor confirmed he had been able to get his hands on the pink. Semple likened him to “some kind of end-of-game super baddie”.

News recently surfaced about that Semple was working on a “black hole effect” paint. He previously told Dazed that he and his collaborators – artists, colour chemists and cosmetics manufacturers, had been working on their own version for 12 years. “It was extremely difficult. We got there and now have a black that reflects nearly no light. Let’s just say I didn't get a Christmas and I've not had much sleep but totally worth it.”

Now, Semple has released ‘Black 2.0’, reformulating the original ‘Black’, and it’s priced at £11.99.

“It has been developed in close collaboration with thousands of artists from all over the world,” notes the product page. “Their amazing insight, support and inspiration has formed this unique super-black paint for the benefit of all artists.”

The product page also includes a note for buyers: “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 material will not make it's way into the hands of Anish Kapoor. #ShareTheBlack.” Just in case the sculptor thought any different than the last few times, you know?

“BLACK 2.0 is our own black that we developed together with the art community,” Semple tells Dazed.

“Artists around the world were so upset when Anish Kapoor got the exclusive rights to use the blackest black in the world because they wanted to make awesome work with it. It seemed obvious that the creators of Vantablack were never going to make a black that artists could use to make work.”

The version, the first open source material of its kind, was sent to artists across the world to beta test. Semple says: “It’s beautiful that a community came together to do this and means we could telescope years of research and development into a few weeks!”

“I’ll fight for our rights to be creative, have access to materials and express ourselves as much as I can but I’m scared because I just don’t have his power or resources” – Stuart Semple

Semple also criticised some elements of Kapoor’s exclusive product. “I know Anish Kapoor would probably love to use some as Vantablack can only cover things up to a meter and is pretty toxic, plus you can't really export it to other countries. What we wanted to make was a really cool usable black that pretty much anyone could afford and paint with. Personally for artistic needs, I think the sprayable Vantablack is pretty rubbish.”

Despite the continuing art wars, the artist says he wishes he and Kapoor “could be friends”. He tells Dazed that he considered lifting the ban for Black 2.0, but alleges that Kapoor could be suing him.

“So I guess the idea of us sharing and burying the beef is off the cards,” says Semple. “I've always said if he says sorry for taking our pink or reimburses me the £3.99 for it and apologises for giving the whole art community the finger, I'd let him use all our cool materials. He just doesn't seem to get the idea that sharing is nice!”

“From my side I want to kiss and make up, but he wants to see this in court. Obviously I'll fight for our rights to be creative, have access to materials and express ourselves as much as I can but I'm scared because I just don't have his power or resources.”

Semple’s Black 2.0 is currently on back order, but you can get it here from Culture Hustle.

The creator of Vantablack, Surrey Nanosystems, has also been developing an even darker invention.  A video from last year shows a “new development of the Vantablack process... a coating so black that our spectrometers can’t measure it.” It basically eats lasers and looks like a black hole. A spraypaint version, called Vantablack S-VIS, has also been created.

One video in particular seems to illustrate the dizzying void the paint can create right in front of you. A clip features two bronze sculptures side-by-side, with one covered in the new product. While the untouched sculpture has curvatures, cheekbones and a large nose, the other is made to look completely flattened. The as of yet unreleased product, a non-nanotube coating, is said by scientists that, “unlike Vantablack, which is a free space material that doesn't tolerate handling, this is a solid coating that is far more tolerant.”

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