March 14, 2018

A pigment that "we think is the blackest material in the universe, after a black hole."

Writing about Anish Kapoor — in that post about "The Bean" and "The Clenched Fist of Truth" — got me to an article that reminded me that I need to write about the death of Stephen Hawking. I'm going to write about Hawking in the next post, but first I want to read this 2016 Guardian article "'You could disappear into it': Anish Kapoor on his exclusive rights to the 'blackest black'/Artist defends controversial deal with developers of Vantablack, the blackest material ‘after a black hole.'"
The pigment is comprised of microscopic stems of colour that are 300 times as tall as they are wide, so that about 99.6% of all light “just gets trapped in the network of standing segments”, he explains. “It’s literally as if you could disappear into it.” The pigment was being developed for scientific and military use due to its “masking ability”....

But when Kapoor won exclusive rights to the material in February, it came with backlash from the artistic community. “I’ve never heard of an artist monopolising a material,” the artist Christian Furr told the Daily Mail. “All the best artists have had a thing for pure black – Turner, Manet, Goya … This black is like dynamite in the art world. We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.”

Kapoor defended his exclusive use of the material: “Why exclusive? Because it’s a collaboration, because I am wanting to push them to a certain use for it. I’ve collaborated with people who make things out of stainless steel for years and that’s exclusive.” He believes much of the debate comes down to emotion. “The problem is that colour is so emotive – especially black ... I don’t think the same response would occur if it was white.”

Kapoor, who has had two decades of psychotherapy, said it’s the “psycho side” of black that makes us want to possess it. “Perhaps the darkest black is the black we carry within ourselves,” he says. “It’s not the night where you switch the lights off – it’s the night where you close your eyes. There’s a psycho side to blackness that we don’t associate with other colours readily. I suspect red does the same. I’ve worked with red a great deal, for not dissimilar reasons.”
A psycho side to blackness.... That sounds wrong, but he's an artist; what does he have to do with politics? Read in that post about "The Bean" and "The Clenched Fist of Truth" and find out.

Can you own a color? You can have a color as a trademark (like UPS has brown), but obviously Kapoor can't own "the blackest black." But what he got was a particular substance, a pigment, that allows black to be seen in way that reflects no light at all. There's a distinction between pigment and color. Color is what is perceived in your brain when light enters your eye. Pigment is stuff that light can hit before bouncing into your eye.

ADDED: Also missed by me back in 2016, the maker of the "pinkest pink" retaliated against Kapoor for hogging the Vantablack:
To keep Kapoor away from PINK, buyers of the paint were asked to sign a legal declaration at checkout to ensure that the artist and his associates would not be able to buy it for him.
And here's Kapoor's response:

47 comments:

traditionalguy said...

I Thought Red and Black was owned by the Univerity of Georgia. The bought it from a french guy named Stendhal.

rhhardin said...

The clenched sphincter of truth.

rhhardin said...

A black hole isn't black. It radiates by particle pair production. One particle falls back, one escapes, if it's done at the horizon.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

This black is like dynamite in the art world. We should be able to use it. It isn’t right that it belongs to one man.

A lot of Alfred Nobel's wealth derived from his patent on dynamite, IIRC.

Levi Starks said...

Is his desire to be the exclusive owner of this black pigment so great that he would be willing to use the threat of legal force, ultimately backed up by physical force (most typically symbolized as a gun in the USA) to protect it?

SteveBrooklineMA said...

Indeed, “Black Holes Ain’t So Black” is the title of a chapter in Hawking’s “A Brief History ofTime.”

Mark said...

Black is not a color. It is the absence of color (and light).

Just as white contains all wavelengths of visible light.

In any event, yes there can be intellectual property in the chemical process of producing certain materials, such as paint.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

rhhardin said...

A black hole isn't black.

That is like saying something isn't white if isn't emitting the maximum amount of light possible, or that something isn't cold if it isn't at absolute zero.

By any reasonable standard, a black hole is extremely black. ( Except for the possible case of a very low mass black hole in the process of evaporating. I don't think any of those have ever been detected. )

Nonapod said...

"Why exclusive? Because it’s a collaboration, because I am wanting to push them to a certain use for it.”

Is this like an IP thing? Is he making money off of it? If so, I don't buy any of these ostensible reasons.

Levi Starks said...

If I were adding modifications to the constitution, wouldn’t I want an amendment guaranteeing a free citizens right to both possess and use the blackest black available?

Chuck said...

Two very interesting (and very good) Athouse posts in a row, that both deal with some of the most interesting imaginable issues of trademark law.

I might have thought that James Brown's 1974 recording of "Papa Don't Take No Mess" was the blackest substance in the universe, but that's just me.

traditionalguy said...

A Military use must be a way to stop Night Vision equiptment from seeing who ever is coated with it. Sneaky stuff.

Bob Boyd said...

Blacker than Hillary's heart?

Levi Starks said...

Ok, after giving it more thought, here’s a serious possibility, he should use this magical black to completely cover his “bean” and thereby make it impossible for there to be any future unauthorized use of its image. Viewers would only “see” a black hole where the bean used to be.

traditionalguy said...

Incidentally, Patents have become the sneaky way to funnel loot to preferred politicians and their friends. They just claim to own a patent on everything and require a payment of a private tax called a liscensing fee to a money laundering entity to do any commercial activity. They learned this from Big Pharma and do it with drugs paid for by government health care all of the time now. And then there are digital system patentsinvented by the Government funded labs but stolen by inside jobs and given private patents

Jay Vogt said...

See, there's our problem right there.

“I’ve never heard of an artist monopolising a material,” the artist Christian Furr told the Daily Mail.

The construct: "I've never heard of an artist insert verb insert preposition insert noun." is what we call originality, or colloquially, "art"

A lot of people get confused by that.

Jay Vogt said...

Also, Vantablack is a really cool material. It messes with the mind just to look at.

langford peel said...

Just as I always say. The blacks always start trouble.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Jay Vogt said...

Also, Vantablack is a really cool material. It messes with the mind just to look at.

Yeah, the pictures I've seen of it look like they've been photoshopped, they look so unnatural. And of course, pictures can't capture the true effect, because the black in the picture is nowhere near as black as the real-life experience.

The Godfather said...

In Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun he refers to a color that is darker than black (I may have the phrase wrong — perhaps someone here remembers ). Maybe Wolfe has a claim to the patent.

FullMoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Jackson said...

This is the classic difference between an artist and an artisan.

The Artist is a trust-fund kid who gets his brother, agent, or lover to purchase the pre-made paints from art supply stores. After all, paint is not cheap or free, SWP to the contrary.

The Artisan makes his own paints from pigment and oil, cuts and stretches his own canvas on frames he has made, working with the client to produce an image the client wants.

Quite political, really.

So, this guy buys the patent for making this particular shade of black. Conservatives say right on; the liberals demand that he give the paint away for free. Is it Sherwin Williams Paints or Socialist Labor Party--both want to cover the world red.

tcrosse said...

A while ago the NYT asked some Canadian expats what they missed most about Canada. One Artist said she missed the 'u' in Colour.

tim in vermont said...
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tim in vermont said...

Just as I always say. The blacks always start trouble

The thing is, if you have been trying for some kind of ironic racism, it isn't working. It's been coming off as pretty genuine. I figure you for a Moby, which if you are, you know your comments are harmful to a movement that's not about racism, and if you are not? Well actually, fuck you in either case.

tim in vermont said...

A lot of people don't get the stages that a color passes through between hitting the camera sensor and being displayed on the screen. It is never the same color, ever, but it is pretty cool to see this roundly demonstrated.

Ann Althouse said...

Is there anyone else here who, like me, finds the subject of this pigment more interesting than a black hole in space?

The Godfather said...

@Althouse: Not me. Both subjects are interesting.

Gahrie said...

Is there anyone else here who, like me, finds the subject of this pigment more interesting than a black hole in space?

Not me..I find black holes much more interesting.

Ironclad said...

Gene Wolfe books had the torturer's guild wear a fuligin cloak - that being the color that was blacker than black. His books need a dictionary to read - some of the words are so obscure but real it's amazing.

Clyde said...

Two decades of psychotherapy? Really, if you can't fix your problems in that amount of time, perhaps you might want to try something else. Not everyone gets the placebo effect.

Gahrie said...

And here's Kapoor's response:

Proving he really is an asshole.

The Godfather said...

Thanks @Ironclad for the word.

Howard said...

Yes, Ann black holes are not very interesting. Pigments are real, black holes are mere figments. There is a branch of impressionist fanboy artists (usually commie pinko fag hags) who claim that black pigment is evil and makes mud of the painting. A real artist makes black from mixing dark colors together... or so "they" say

Howard said...

What's interesting is there should be a very real engineering application of such a substance. We haven't yet figured out how to incorporate black holes into industrial processes.

dbzdak said...

The question is: how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46kXH6GGtT0

Chuck said...

Ann Althouse said...
Is there anyone else here who, like me, finds the subject of this pigment more interesting than a black hole in space?

I'll say yes; I loved this entire post.

But when, someday somebody somehow takes a picture of an actual black hole in space such that we can begin to comprehend it (at which time I'll expect the New York Times to write about it, and Althouse to blog it), I expect we will both change our minds.

Hopefully we'll live to see it.

n.n said...

A speculative pigment observed in abstentia and inferred through speculation?

Well, unlike the mythical black hole, the pigment can be observed and characterized in the near-space and time (i.e. scientific logical domain).

That said, did they say "black whore"? Shouldn't the NAACP be notified of this [color] diversity transgression?

Lewis Wetzel said...

In his scifi trilogy Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe describes the color fuligin, which is blacker than black. A black hole is eye-blinking bright compared to fuligin.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Cuck wrtoe:
"But when, someday somebody somehow takes a picture of an actual black hole in space such that we can begin to comprehend it (at which time I'll expect the New York Times to write about it, and Althouse to blog it), I expect we will both change our minds."
You can't see a black hole. It neither radiates light nor reflects light.
But some astrophysicists (Andrea Ghez of UCLA, for example) are using the current generation of large telescopes, and their adaptive optics systems, to image the motion of stars caught in the gravitational field near the black hole at the center of our galaxy. They move right along.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

n.n said...

A speculative pigment observed in abstentia and inferred through speculation?

Well, unlike the mythical black hole, the pigment can be observed and characterized in the near-space and time (i.e. scientific logical domain).


Nothing about the scientific logical domain limits it near-space and time. And black holes are no more mythical than the pigments. Remember that the pigments that you observe are observed from a distance in both space and time. Your observation of them is merely the observation of photons coming from them. Likewise we have observed black holes by observing the motion of nearby starts ( by their photons ), by photons emitted by their accretion disks, and by observing the effects of their gravitational waves on detectors that we construct.

Of course, it might be possible to come up with another theory to explain each of those observations. Just as it might be possible to come up with another theory other than those mythical pigments to explain the colored light reaching your eye.

jrapdx said...

Black represents absence, a void, nothingness. A "true" black emits nothing for all the ambient light that strikes it. Reflected in the description of someone with a "black heart", lack of generosity, stinginess, absolute unwillingness to share. I know artists like that, not as uncommon as one might imagine.

Seems ironic that used in works of art the pigment will never be appreciated by very many people. In real-world experience people are much more likely to look at art online than ever see it "in the flesh" in a gallery or museum. Unless the patent owner licenses the product to manufacturers to produce artist materials (paint, etc.) it won't get widely known.

BTW I haven't looked into it but I'm wondering how compatible the pigment will be with ordinary binders (like acrylic, oil) used in artist paints. When embedded in a paint film, it's conceivable that some of the qualities of "blackness" would be lost. Maybe the chemists have worked it out. Then again it might make a great pencil or pastel stick, so could be some options.

Paddy O said...

The performance of hogging the black is actually more artistic than anything he does with it.

Because it involves an interplay of human nature and competition, evoking how that which we may not know or desire becomes paramount when another exhibits their ownership of it. It's a dance of egos, splaying out before the world. At the same time, adding a polyvalent nature to the performance, it asks the poignant questions whether art requires an equality of possibilities for all artists in expression and whether it can--and maybe should--demarcate a univocal medium for one to speak out to the many, insiders to outsiders, the black to the white.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Blogger jrapdx said...
. . .
Seems ironic that used in works of art the pigment will never be appreciated by very many people. In real-world experience people are much more likely to look at art online than ever see it in the flesh" in a gallery or museum. Unless the patent owner licenses the product to manufacturers to produce artist materials (paint, etc.) it won't get widely known.

I recently read of the real-life experience of being a painter before the industrial revolution. Exotic items were sought after for the pigments, carefully mixed under just the right conditions. Sketches and studies were made. Wood or canvas or plaster prepared. It was a lot of work. Then the painter turned these alchemical compounds & materials into a semblance of life.
Compare with the experience of creating an image using the tools on the latest Mac.

traditionalguy said...

Black holes suck in the photons by super strength gravity. But absolute black color passively fails at reflecting photons. That means black holes are black power but absolute black is just lazy. This discussion is gonna be trouble.

Howard said...

Old School painting
http://nerdrummuseum.com/school/

Anonymous said...

"The performance of hogging the black is actually more artistic than anything he does with it."

Drama (in the sense of the drama queen) is the only art form our current era doesn't suck at.

It's what we'll be remembered for. "First world problems" as performance art.