Anish Kapoor, the famed sculptor, who created the ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture for the 2012 Olympics, has provoked the fury of fellow artists this week by acquiring the exclusive rights to use the blackest shade of black in the world. Vantablack, as the hue is known, derives its name from the terms Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays. Created in 2014 by scientists at UK-based company, Surrey NanoSystems Limited, for the purpose of disguising satellites, it is the blackest substance known to man, absorbing a maximum of 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum. With its light-absorbing properties, it has also been used to hide Stealth fighter jets from enemy eyes.
While aerospace companies will continue to be able to use the shade, in the art world, its use will be limited to Anish, as confirmed by a NanoSystems spokesman on Tuesday. Sir Anish did not respond to requests for comment. He did, however, speak about Vantablack last year, saying: “The material is astonishing, so deeply black that your eyes can’t really see it at all. It is like staring into the kind of black hole found in outer space.” According to reports, it seems as though a license-type of relationship exists between Anish and NanoSystems. There has been no word, however, on how much Anish paid in exchange for the exclusive right to use the Vantablack substance.
Portraitist Christian Furr is one of the artists that has spoken out about the limited availability of the color, telling the Daily Mail: “We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.” Furr, who had planned to use Vantablack in a series of paintings called Animals, elaborated, saying: “I’ve never heard of an artist monopolizing a material. Using pure black in an artwork grounds it.”
This is not the first time a color has been legally claimed. In 1960, the French artist Yves Klein claimed his signature blue hue, International Klein Blue (IKB), “a deep, matt shade of blue that he developed with a Paris paint-maker and used in a series of monochrome blue paintings,” as a federally registered trademark in France.
As for how the case at hand is possible on a legal basis, it seems that the color itself is the creation of NanoSystems and thus, the intellectual property of NanoSystems. As a result, the company has the right to limit its use however it pleases. Not only has the company filed to federally protect the name of the color by way of federal trademark registrations in the U.S. and the UK, it has a number of patents in the UK and the U.S. in connection with the process of “growing metal (including semiconductor metal) nanowires” – which refers to the way in which the Vantablack is grown. According to NanoSystems, that Vantablack is a substance made from carbon nanotubes – it is composed of a forest of vertical tubes which are “grown.”