The Story Behind the Blackest Black and Why Two Artists Are Feuding Over It

IMAGE Vogler/ Ellis Scott/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ INSTAGRAM @surreynanosystems

Feuds always manage to make their way into various circumstances—and even the art world isn’t exempt. Take Michelangelo’s long-standing rivalry with Raphael, Matisse’s silent war with Picasso, or Van Gogh and Gauguin’s heated relationship (which purportedly led to the former’s ear being severed).

Recently, two artists—Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple—have engaged in a feud over a color. The now-extremely rare and unique color in question is Vantablack, “a super-black coating that holds the world record as the darkest man-made substance.” Vantablack, often referred to as the blackest black, is unique in the way that it virtually absorbs all light (about 99.965 percent to be exact). It’s so black that it’s been described as the closest thing we’ll ever see to a black hole. The color was originally developed for satellite systems and is applied using either vacuum-deposition technology or through spraying.

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In 2016, Kapoor was heavily criticized after he licensed Vantablack’s exclusive use. The British sculptor did so by simply approaching the pigment’s producers, NanoSystem. Artist Christian Furr, who initially planned to use Vantablack in a series of paintings, says "I've never heard of an artist monopolising a material. Using pure black in an artwork grounds it," he said. "All the best artists have had a thing for pure black–Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world." "We should be able to use it—it isn't right that it belongs to one man," he added. Other artists who thought the same include Semple, a contemporary British artist.


In response to the exclusive license, Semple protested by making “the world’s pinkest pink” to give Kapoor, in his words, “a taste of his own medicine.” Semple’s pinkest pink is available to all (except Kapoor) for £3.99. A note on Semple’s selling page reads: “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.”

Shortly after the release of the “pinkest pink,” Kapoor posted a photo of Semple’s pigment with his middle finger dipped in the fluorescent shade. The photo was then captioned with “Up yours #pink” which added fuel to the flame.

Up yours #pink

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The feud has since snowballed into a full onmatch. To retaliate, Semple released “Diamond Dust,” a powder he describes as the “world’s most glittery glitter.” The sparkly material is made from tiny flakes of glass which would make it impossible for Kapoor to dip his finger in. The small project has turned into a series for Semple, who has released a set called the “world’s colouriest powder paints.” The colors include blue, green, yellow, a color changing paint, and a glowing pigment. Kapoor has repeatedly threatened the younger artist with legal action. In March 2017, Semple tweeted: “So... Looks like Anish Kapoor is suing us” but nothing, however, has materialized since.

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On April 2017, Semple announced his newest pigment, Black 2.0, a material to counter Kapoor’s Vantablack. Black 2.0 claims to be the best flat, matte, black paint on the planet. And although it’s not as dark as Vantablack, it is a cheaper and better-scented alternative. (Vantablack supposedly has an unpleasant chemical odor while Black 2.0 is black cherry-scented.)

Black 2.0 appears to be Semple's final move, and a year later, it seems the feud has fizzled out.

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About The Author
Paolo Chua
Associate Style Editor
Paolo Chua is the Associate Style Editor at Esquire Philippines, where he writes about fashion and grooming. Before joining Esquire Philippines, he was a writer at Town & Country Philippines.
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