For decades, the idea that somebody can “own” a color has been a contentious one.
But Kapoor’s exclusive license of Vantablack proved controversial, sparking a years-long feud with Stuart Semple, a British artist who has since set out to “liberate” colors from private ownership. Having created several of his own “coloriest colors,” Semple then made them available to everyone in the world — apart from Kapoor.
This month, his studio launched Blink, which is touted as the “blackest black ink” and is priced at just $16 a bottle.
A close up of Blink, Stuart Semple’s new “blackest black” ink. Credit: Culture Hustle
“That’s the whole point of liberating the colors. If we liberated them and then they were hideously expensive, it would defeat the whole object,” Semple told CNN.
He has also developed a “blackest black paint in the world,” to rival Vantablack.
Semple, who grew up making his own oil pastels because he couldn’t afford art store prices, said that controlling who can use a certain color is “sad.”
“That, to me at least, really is against the idea of sharing, generosity, community — what art materials should be for,” he added. “As human beings we have a right to express ourselves. It’s basic freedom, and I think to do that we need the tools and materials.”
It’s a mantra that underpins Semple’s studio, Culture Hustle, which sells exuberant art materials from the “glowiest glow” pigment to dust claiming to be the “most glittery glitter.”
“I really don’t think price or wealth should preclude you from expressing yourself,” he said.
“The idea was if only one person can have Vantablack, what if everyone in the world can have the pink except that one person?” Semple said, adding he intended for the product “to raise a dialogue in a debate about ownership and elitism and privilege and access to the arts.”
Related video: How Vantablack, the darkest thing on Earth, helps see into space
Because Vantablack is not produced as paint or pigment in the traditional sense, NanoSystems says it is “generally not suitable for use in art due to the way in which it’s made.” A form of the substance that can be sprayed onto surfaces, called Vantablack S-VIS, requires “specialist application,” the company says. For that reason, the company decided to give artistic rights exclusively to Kapoor in 2016.
He attributed the backlash to the “emotive” power of the color black, stating that the response would have been different if he had licensed a shade of white. “Perhaps the darkest black is the black we carry within ourselves,” he said.
A comparison of Culture Hustle’s ‘Blink’ to other black inks on the market. Credit: Culture Hustle
“It’s slightly less (absorbent than Vantablack), but you and I don’t really have developed enough eyes to be able to measure that,” Semple said.
Stuart Semple unveiling an art installation in 2020. Credit: David Parry/PA Wire/AP
‘Cat and mouse chase’
Culture Hustle’s team consists of two color scientists, who use a spectrometer to test their claims, as well as hundreds of “beta testers”: artists who use the products and offer feedback.
In addition to creating new products, the studio also revises and improves old formulas to make them even more vivid. Its pinkest pink, for instance, is now “ten times” pinker than the original formulation, Semple said.
Although the 40-year-old insists he never intended to sell paint, Culture Hustle has built a community of creatives who tag and share artwork made using the materials on social media. But while Semple promotes collaboration and camaraderie in what he calls an “elite art world dominated by some very powerful artists,” he appears to be, nonetheless, motivated by a certain competitiveness.
“I think when Kapoor got the pink, I always had in the back of my mind that the ultimate thing to do would be to create an even pinker one, or one that he hasn’t got,” he said, describing the rivalry as a “cat and mouse chase.”
“He was one of my heroes. I loved his work,” Semple said. “(I saw his) pigment works when I was a teenager.
“You know someone you really admire and look up to, then (they do) something horrendous? It stings twice as much in a strange way.”