Color is powerful. Studies show that colors have a big effect on our mood, productivity, and even how we eat. If you are an artist, even if it’s just a coloring book to help you relax, you know the power of color on a personal level. Beginning in 2016, a bizarre color war broke out between two artists: Stuart Semple and Anish Kapoor. The Semple versus Kapoor feud revolves around one color in particular, but it’s really about accessibility in art, with a hit of old-fashioned pettiness, as well.
In 1954, Kapoor was born in India and moved to England in the 1970’s, where he studied art. He made a name for himself creating sculptures and experimenting with negative space. Some of his best-known works include Cloud Gate at the Chicago Millennium Park (known as the “bean”) and a towering spiral ladder for the London Olympics. In 2013, he was knighted for his achievements in art.
Stuart Semple was born in Dorset in 1980. He first got interested in art after visiting the National Gallery with his mother and seeing Van Gogh. He went to school to study art and in 1999, he became one of the first artists to use the internet and experiment with digital art. His style incorporates text and pop art.
Paint it black
In 2016, Kapoor bought the exclusive rights to Vantablack. Why does it matter? Vantablack is unlike any black in the world. It absorbs 99.96% of the light that hits it, so to the naked eye, it looks like a black hole. The color is produced using a complex technological process that involves an antigravity chamber. It actually “grows” and because it absorbs so much light – more light than any other black – it gets extremely hot. Surrey NanoSystems created it. When Kapoor bought the rights, the scientists revamped Vantablack so it would be slightly easier to actually use. Now, it doesn’t need to grow, it can be sprayed on surfaces, but it’s still a complicated, haphazard process. Kapoor is the only person in the world who can use this black. He’s only made one piece of art with it – a $95,000 watch with Vantablack painted on the face.
When Stuart Semple learned that Kapoor had bought exclusive rights to a color, the Semple versus Kapoor feud began. Semple is all about accessibility. He mixes his own pigments and sells them online for very cheap. To make a statement, Semple created a pink paint (“Pinkest Pink”) and started selling it, but only if the person buying it signed a waiver stating they were not Anish Kapoor and they were not buying it for Kapoor. Sales flooded in, with people labeling their work with #sharetheblack. Then, Kapoor responded. He posted a picture of his middle finger, dipped in Pinkest Pink, with the caption, “Up yours.”
Black is the new black
The Semple versus Kapoor feud got kicked up a notch. Semple was annoyed that Kapoor had gotten his hands on the pink paint, and so decided to respond again. This time, Semple created a new black. After creating Black 2.0, he’s now perfected his paint and called it Black 3.0. Unlike Kapoor’s black, Black 3.0 is handled like regular ol’ acrylic paint. It still absorbs between 98-99% of visible light, so it’s practically identical to Vantablack, at least to the naked eye. Like Pinkest Pink, Semple will not sell Black 3.0 to Kapoor.
What’s the point? Is Semple just being a jerk, or is Kapoor the real villain? Maybe they both are, depending on who you are. Semple is making a statement about the art world at large with his affordable, accessible paints. He doesn’t make money from his pigments. The exclusivity of Kapoor’s paint and the concept of hoarding a color really bothers him. For now, it looks like the Semple versus Kapoor feud is at a standstill. Semple released his new Black 3.0 in January 2019, and there’s been no response from Kapoor. Yet.
All colors evolve over time in how they are created and what they mean to people. Click here to read about some of them.