Written by: Nicholas Holmes

Picture a material so black that when you look at it, a void of nothingness appears. A material so black that when you apply it to aluminum foil, the wrinkles disappear completely. This material exists, and is called “Vantablack,” a material so dark that it absorbs 99.96% of light. The material was created by a UK firm Surrey Nanosystems in 2014, with the name “Vantablack” being trademarked for a variety of goods and services, such as paints and alloy materials. Several patents also reference the material, but the formulation and processes for the creation of the material are likely protected by trade secrets.

Now what does the above introduction have to do with art and artists? In 2016, Surrey Nanosystems granted artist Sir Anish Kapoor the exclusive rights to paint using the Vantablack material. This means only Kapoor is permitted to use the Vantablack material when creating art, creating a monopoly on the use of the material. This created outrage in the artistic community, with various artists signaling that in a creative field like art, nobody should have a monopoly.

Enter Stuart Semple, a British artist, who in late 2016 fired the opening salvo in a battle that has become known as the “Color Wars.” Semple created what he calls the “world’s pinkest pink” and the “most glittery glitter.” These pigments were put on sale, to anybody not named Anish Kapoor. To buy the pigments, purchasers had to promise they weren’t Kapoor and would not give the pigments to Kapoor. To Semple’s dismay, Kapoor did receive the “pinkest pink” pigment, proving it by posting on Instagram a photo of his middle finger that was dipped in the “pinkest pink” pigment.

Semple has gone on to create competitors to Vantablack, creating darker and darker iterations named Black 2.0, Black 3.0, and Black 4.0, respectively. Of course, these pigments are available to any artist who would like to buy them, except Anish Kapoor. A Black 4.0 dipped middle finger Instagram photo has not been posted as of the publishing of this blog.

To the regular consumer, this petty “Color War” is more of an amusement than a lesson in the power and purpose of Intellectual Property Law. Intellectual Property, at its core, grants persons the exclusive right to use something, create something and prevent others from using something. While the monopolization of an artistic material may be in bad taste and against the cultural norm of an industry, it is a permitted action because of the grant of exclusivity that comes with rights in intellectual property.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution states “Congress shall have Power…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts…”1 Semple, albeit not intentionally, has achieved the goals of the Constitution and Congress; the exclusivity given to Kapoor in the Vantablack material has resulted in the progress of science and useful arts when Semple created Black 2.0, Black 3.0, and Black 4.0 as competitors and “better” versions of Vantablack. Semple has stated the creation of Black 4.0 will be his final release as a competitor to Vantablack, effectively ending the famed “Color Wars.”

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