Who Owns A Color: Part 2

In part one of this blog post I noted that in the business world companies sometimes have a legitimate claim of exclusive use, or “ownership,” of a specific color.

I also noted that sometimes an artist becomes strongly identified with a color or range of colors. Although they don’t actually own them, those colors become a signature of sorts that are acknowledged and respected by others.

This brings us to 2014 when Indian born British artist Anish Kapoor first learned about a product called Vantablack being produced by the company NanoSystems.

Anish Kapoor is a very prestigious artist with a stellar international resumé. A tiny sampling of his career awards include the following: He represented England in the Venice Biennale. He received the Turner Prize as well as the LennonOno Grant for Peace. He was commissioned to create a monumental sculpture for the London Olympics. And in 2013 – like Elton John and Paul McCartney before him – he was Knighted.

Sculpture by Anish Kapoor

Kapoor’s sculptures often focus our perception on his artwork’s surface. He has, for example, created pools of swirling colored liquid, lined recessed shapes with powdered pigment, worked with metals designed to rust, and created forms from a highly polished stainless steel that mirrors its surroundings. Standing before an Anish Kapoor sculpture is a sensual and delightful experience. Viewers are generally spellbound by the illusion he creates with his surface materials.

Stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor

Vantablack is a new high tech product somewhat like a paint or a pigment but different in significant ways. NanoSystems, the company that makes it, says that Vantablack is a “…forest of millions upon millions of small…carbon nanotubes.” Each of these nanotubes is about 3,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

Vantablack absorbs 99.96% of the light that falls on it. This is the darkest substance ever measured. Even if an object has a highly irregular and complex surface Vantablack will  make it appear to be only a flat silhouette. Scientists who have worked with it say that looking at Vantablack is like looking into a black hole in outer space.

(If you are viewing this in email please click here to view the video.)

Currently Vantablack is being developed for use with stealth military equipment, satellites, high-performance infrared cameras, sensors and scientific instruments. It is still in the experimental stage. Applying the material to a surface is a very complex process and so far they’ve only been able to cover small items.

When Anish Kapoor found out about Vantablack he convinced NanoSystems to let him consult wth their technicians and help direct their research. Researchers and the chief technology officer at NanoSystems became fans of Kapoor’s input and his art. One thing led to another and soon Kapoor was granted exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art.

When Kapoor was granted this exclusive right other artists immediately responded. One of them was Christian Furr, a young English artist who was recently commissioned to paint an official portrait of the Queen. Furr said “All the best artists have had a thing for pure black – Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world.” He added, “We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.”

Not satisfied with simply complaining about the issue, artist Stuart Semple decided to strike back. In an interview with The Creators Project he described his plan of action…

“When I first heard that Anish had the exclusive rights to the blackest black I was really disappointed,” Semple tells The Creators Project. “I was desperate to have a play with it in my own work and I knew lots of other artists who wanted to use it too. It just seemed really mean-spirited and against the spirit of generosity that most artists who make and share their work are driven by. I thought a good comment would be if I made a paint that was available to everyone but exclude him from using it. That way he can have a taste of his own medicine!”

Semple has been working for the past decade with paint manufacturers from all over the world. His goal is to create the most vibrant colors possible. One of those vibrant colors is his recently developed PINK. Semple says, “It’s the best one I’ve got.”

jar of Stuart Semple's PINK pigment

Anyone can purchase PINK. Anyone that is…except Anish Kapoor.

When you are at the checkout stand ready to buy PINK you are required to make a legally binding declaration 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 the hands of Anish Kapoor.”

Unfortunately for Semple’s efforts, Kapoor has acquired a jar of PINK.

So it seems that the business world’s attitude and legal claims of color ownership have finally extended into the art community. It will be interesting to see if this is a one-of-a-kind controversy or if it is merely opening the door for more claims in the future.

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