ActivismArtPaintingPopSculptureVisual Art

On Wednesdays, We Litigate Pink

Like a lot of folks, the Lab got really excited a few years ago about Vantablack, a material that absorbs 99.96% of visible light and is the “blackest black” synthetic thing outside of a black hole. Then Bean-sculptor Anish Kapoor made a deal for the exclusive rights to use it, deflating the dreams of techies, goths, and artists across the planet.

The stuff isn’t actually a paint, and it’s incredibly difficult to work with. In their Vantablack FAQ, Surrey NanoSystems states that the substance “requires specialist application to achieve its aesthetic effect. In addition, the coating’s performance beyond the visible spectrum results in it being classified as a dual-use material that is subject to UK Export Control.” Part of the reason Kapoor wanted the rights was so he could work with the company on developing it further, utilizing the sort of exclusive partnership he’d used previously while working on other large-scale projects in stainless steel.

But while that may have made sense to Kapoor, it still doesn’t sit well with others in the artistic community. BoingBoing still refers to the sculptor as “a colossal, controlling asshole.”  The hashtag #ShareTheBlack, on both Twitter and Instagram, today remains full of other artists still annoyed by the deal. And one artist in particular, calling the exclusive contract “a heinous ego driven pact,” responded by developing his own PINK pigment of super-ultra-pinkness for anyone to use… except Anish Kapoor.

Restrictions may apply

If you would like to acquire Stuart Semple’s pinkest pink that ever pinked, you are welcome to do so as long as “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.”

Needless to say, that did not sit well with Sir Anish Kapoor.

Posting a photo on Instagram captioned simply “Up yours #pink,” Kapoor raises a middle finger to an entirely new level of petty, coated in Semple’s PINK.

Upon discovering that London’s Lisson Gallery had purchased some PINK and given it to the “colour-hoarder,” Semple sent a tongue-in-cheek letter asking for, among other things, an apology from the gallery and 100 lines of “I will be nice. I will share my colours” written by Kapoor and posted to his Instagram.

But wait, there’s more!

Earlier this year, Semple brought out his own ultrablack pigment, “an OK black” he called Black 1.0. Sending samples to 1,000 other artists for their feedback, he then released an even-blacker, super-matte, Black 2.0 of doubleplus blackity blackness of the darkest deep. “You can paint with this stuff, and it’s nontoxic, and it’s affordable,” he says… and it is, of course, subject to the same as-long-as-you’re-not-Anish-Kapoor availability restrictions in the fine print.

He’s since gone on to release the greenest green, the yellowest yellow, the loveliest blue, and more… none of which are available to a certain sculptor with the initials AK. He also made the most glittery glitter available just in time for holiday festivities last year. Made from actual glass that’s 99.8% clear, the glitter was created in partnership with an industrial chemical company that makes architectural coatings, and is made with loads of irregular angles to reflect more sparkliness by area than even the fluffiest unicorn.

But of course, it doesn’t end there either.

(This is the part of the infomercial where you get to double the offer, right?)

Responding to an article about Semple’s PINK, a spokesperson for Kapoor told BuzzFeed News,

“This product is using Anish Kapoor’s name as a promotion tool. We have now put this matter to our lawyers who will take appropriate action.”

But in a perhaps-not-equal-but-opposite reaction right back at Kapoor, neighbors of his London studio have started a petition against him in protest of an expansion the sculptor has planned that would block their light and view. Those neighbors got in touch with Semple, who has released even more paints in support of the petition.

Both “rainbow” paints change color. Shift uses chiral nematic liquid crystals (more on those below) to change colors through the spectrum at temperatures between 24 and 28ºC (about 75 to 84ºF). Painted in a thin layer over something dark (such as Black 2.0, perhaps?), it does this:

Also, IT IS ALIVE! Er, organic, at least. (And the paint needs to be kept in the fridge.) The “Rainbow Liquid” portion of the Shift “kit” is the liquid crystal part.

So how the heck does it DO that? Based on my own little self-taught crash-course, liquid crystals (or LCs) are material in a liquid crystalline or mesomorphic state, which is an intermediate phase between liquid and solid. (These phases between the commonly-understood states of solid, liquid, and gas have been known since the late 1880s when Friedrich Reinitzer noted that cholesteryl benzoate had two melting points: one where the solid melted into a cloudy liquid, and another when the liquid became clear.) An LC may flow like a liquid (which is what allows the paint to behave like paint), but its molecules may be organized in a crystal-like way (aligning collectively in a certain direction). The molecules of an LC then display different optical properties (such as color) depending on the LC’s phase.

Chiral nematic LCs are a thermotropic type, meaning that their phase transitions occur with temperature changes. Since thermotropic LCs often display a variety of phases as the surrounding temperature changes, this is likely what gives us the color range in the Rainbow Liquid. (For a far better explanation of what “chiral nematic” means than I can possibly provide, there’s a rather nice, plain-English description over here with the Nobel Prizes.)

Semple’s second color supporting the studio-neighbors’ petition, Phaze, combines PINK and Semple’s Purple Haze pigments, appearing purple at temperatures up to 28ºC and pink at higher temperatures. As it works a bit differently than Shift, the Phaze powder needs to be stored somewhere cool and dark but not in the fridge.

Both colors were originally developed for the artist’s own projects, but have been lent to raise funds to help Kapoor’s neighbors let the sunshine in. I’m not entirely sure how they’ve got it set up so buying OMG SUPERBRIGHT PAINT will support a petition to keep some dude from adding an entire new floor to his big ol’ sculpture studio, but they do have 634 signatures as of this writing.

Tune in next time!

Will the conflict never end? What colors can possibly come next? Will Anish Kapoor’s people follow through on their threat of legal action? Will his Camberwell neighbors be able to deflect the “prison-like” studio addition from stealing their sky? Find out soon on an upcoming episode of Firefly The People’s Court Mad Art Lab!

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and sticky public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around. If external links are your thing, here are links to Twitter and Instagram, and you can support her ongoing weirdness by buying her a coffee or six.

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