Can an artist own the right to a colour? Anish Kapoor says yes

It does not happen very often that a colour gets invented – yet this happened very recently in 2014, when British Surrey NanoSystems presented their Vantablack, a graphene-based pigment developed for military purposes (think concealing fighter jets) able to absorb 99.96 % of visible light, and therefore resulting into the blackest of blacks.

To go a bit more tech-specific (stay with me) this is actually not exactly a paint, nor a colour, but a coating composed of a series of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, in whose labyrinth light gets trapped never to get reflected off again.


We covered this discovery keenly back then, and it’s therefore with great curiosity that we heard about world-renown artist Sir Anish Kapoor having purchased exclusive rights to the use of this paint.

This means, he and he alone can paint with Vantablack. How is this possible, we wonder?

This news immediately sparked polemics and debates across the artistic world, and comparisons with Yves Klein and his trademarked International Klein Blue are many and varied. Yet, when Mr. Klein registered the patent for his eponymous hue, he had also participated into its development together with paint-maker Edouard Adam.


Sir Kapoor is famous for his chromatic sensorial explorations and spatial installations, so we were curious indeed about the works he has planned to using the superblack for? They will surely be an outstanding and probably bewildering experience. This pigment is so light-absorbing that it flattens any surface or volume it is applied to: think about walking into a space clad in it, the disorientation and sense of displacement it could enhance.


As he stated in a 2014 interview to BBC Radio 4, ‘What we’re looking to do is to make real void objects. […] Imagine a space that’s so dark that as you walk in you lose all sense of who you are and what you are, and also all sense of time… Something happens to your emotional self and in disorientation one has  to reach for other resources, and that’s what I’m after. […] This is extremely interesting, as it affords a new possibility for the eye, a new possibility of seeing, and therefore a new possibility for art.’


Nonetheless, having the monopoly of a coating, of a colour, sounds surreal – having to pay a high price for it yes, it is understandable and it has been common in art history since the days of grounded lapis lazuli; but exclusive rights to its usage is a different story.

The debate is hot in these offices as well, and as colour editor Hannah Craggs puts it:

How many times have we heard that something is the new black? However Vanta black truly is the new(ish) black. This progression made by of a group of scientists demonstrates how companies trying to manipulate materials can really push the boundaries, evolving and exploring the balance between science and art and all the other fields.

This has thrown up discussion around which colour will be up next for further development, will we see a blue-r blue or a reddier red? Only time will tell.’ 

Surely the conversation is far from over, and we look forward to losing sense of time and space in Sir Kapoor’s art installation as well as finding out more about this exclusive (time-limited? usage-limited? Unlimited?) agreement.


In the meantime the fascination for darkness continues to drive design and styling ever more strongly: indeed black is the new black, and in both fashion and interiors the importance of tinted darks will remain significant through to 2017 (at least).


Lifestyle & Interiors subscribers can read more about Advanced Colour and how technology is changing our way to experience colour, as well as the latest trends in Darker Design and how darks go Nocturne for A/W 17/18 on our platform.

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