By Seth Parent
A petty, back-and-forth social media feud between two artists has finally given the world more than just mindless entertainment and threatened lawsuits. In the latest recurrence of this feud, one of the artists has created the world’s first “open-source” paint product, demonstrating that open-source licensing schemes may have incredible value outside of the software industry.
So, what led to the creation of this entirely new way to buy, sell, and create paint?
A few years back, Surrey Nanosystems created a substance known as Vantablack for some of its aerospace customers. Vantablack can be applied to surfaces and absorbs 99.965% of light, creating a stunning visual effect which makes any three-dimensional object it is applied to appear two-dimensional and almost void-like. Examples of Vantablack’s use can be seen here. Vantablack’s light absorbing properties have countless uses in both the aerospace and military defense industries, but Surrey Nanosystems has also been approached by watchmakers and auto-manufacturers who are interested in using Vantablack for its unique visual properties.
One artist, sculptor Anish Kapoor, negotiated with Surrey Nanosystems to secure the exclusive rights to use Vantablack in an artistic capacity. Kapoor, no stranger to controversy himself, sparked outrage in the normally collaborative art community by functionally denying use of the “world’s blackest black” to all other artists.
Some of this outrage may be misplaced, however. As Cordozo law professor Christopher J. Buccafusco rightfully points out, Vantablack is not a color, but rather a material invented and patented by Surrey Nanosystems. Just like any other patented invention, the rights can be assigned in any way the inventor chooses; even ways that may seem “anti-competitive or immoral.”
However, another artist by the name of Stuart Semple did not feel that his anger was misplaced at all. Semple took to Instagram to make his distaste for Anish Kapoor more than obvious. Semple believes that Anish Kapoor represents everything that is wrong with the art industry, referring to Kapoor and others like him as “[A] generation all about selling something for as much as possible, to as few elite people as possible.”
Semple is known for his use of vibrant, bright colors and has been experimenting with making his own pigments of color for years. Through his experimenting, Semple created what is possibly the “world’s pinkest pink.” He felt it was hypocritical to criticize Kapoor while not sharing his own colors, so he opened an online store, Culturehustle, and began selling the “world’s pinkest pink” with one interesting caveat. Every product on Culturehustle is accompanied by a disclaimer that it is available to everyone except Anish Kapoor. Additionally, when making a purchase, customers must acknowledge that they are not Anish Kapoor, not affiliated with Anish Kapoor, and will not do anything that could result in the paint making its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor.
However, it didn’t take long for Anish Kapoor to violate Culturehustle’s terms of service and order some of the “world’s pinkest pink” for himself. Kapoor then uploaded a photo of his middle finger coated in Semple’s pink to his Instagram account, accompanied by the hashtag “Up yours #pink.” Semple was saddened by this, and has asked for an apology from Kapoor and a return of the £3.99 that it cost. Additionally, Semple said that he would love to share his colors with Kapoor – but only once Kapoor learns to “#sharetheblack” and allows other artists to use Vantablack.
However, not only has Kapoor refused to #sharetheblack, he is now threatening to sue Semple, claiming that by including the Anish Kapoor disclaimer on his website, Semple is using his name and likeness as a promotion tool for his paints. A lawsuit has not yet been filed, but the case would certainly be interesting if it ever came to fruition. In the United States, Kapoor would have to demonstrate that Semple sought only to gain commercial advantage by including Kapoor’s name – something Kapoor would likely fail to do considering the history between the two artists. Without proving this, the claim would ultimately fail. A false endorsement or false association claim would likely meet the same fate.
So where does this leave us? Semple’s store has garnered overwhelming support from the art community – and many artists have asked him to use his experience with pigment augmentation to replicate Vantablack. Semple decided to take a crack and this, creating what he calls “Black V1.0.” In creating Black V1.0, Semple separated the pigment from the paint’s base and allowed other artists to tinker with the pigment. This new process allows for the creation of a near infinite number of new color possibilities in a uniquely open-source fashion. In fact, the art community has already used Semple’s platform to collaborate and create Black V2.0 – an extremely flat, matte black acrylic paint which creates a “Vantastic black hole effect,” according to Semple’s website.
Black V2.0 may not be the world’s blackest black. But it is, as Semple puts it, “better than the blackest black, because it is actually usable by artists*”
*Except Anish Kapoor