I want to own a colour

Yesterday, this article was brought to my attention.

This article is about a particular colour that is causing some controversy at the moment: vantablack. I hadn’t heard of vantablack before I read this article. Vantablack is the black of a substance that was developed by British company NanoSystems for use on stealth satellites. Vantablack actually describes a solid rather than a colour. It is made of carbon nanotubes which absorbs 99% of light rays. It’s colour is a particularly deep shade of black that cannot be seen naturally on earth. It is arguably the purest black we have. It is gold in the artworld. The controversy has arisen because sculptor Anish Kapoor has claimed exclusive rights to the artistic use of vantablack. No other artist can use it. He’s found something amazing and he’s keeping it.

Vantablack creates the illusion of flatness or concaveness

Vantablack creates the illusion of flatness or concaveness

I am intrigued by the notion of owning a colour and also incensed by it. In theory, this sounds bizarre. How can you own a colour? Colour is everywhere. It is like air. You cannot own air. I love colour. I see letters and numbers in colour. People have a colour. My life is filled with colour. But how can someone claim to own a colour? Of course in this case he is claiming to own the rights to use the colour in the form of the pigment of vantablack.

I think this is wrong. To be able to experiment with this colour would be a dream. It is so ‘deep’ that it transforms the surface of any object. It is beyond our known reality. It is an abstraction of natural colour. It creates an illusion. It gives depth to solid. Many artists have experimented with black because it is such a fascinating colour. It is an anti-colour. The purist painter shuns the use of black (I don’t have a black oil paint, darkness is created with dark blue and brown). Their argument is based on the fact that ‘black’ is not a colour seen in the real world. But the idea of having the sort of black only found in deep space to play with and experiment with is tantalizing to me. I want some vantablack. I don’t think I will get it though (they certainly don’t sell it in Hobbycraft). Please Mr Kapoor, give me some vantablack.

An interesting related question is whether it is possible to replicate the full effect of vantablack digitally. Googling ‘vantablack’ throws up a number of interesting images that appear oddly flat rather than concave or even three-dimensional. I wonder if this is because it is impossible to fully realise the sublime response of vantablack digitally. I suspect I need to seek out a vantablack artwork in order to ‘get’ it. Art is so readily available online now that I think we sometimes lose sight of the fact that we can never  truly see the original colours or textures, and feel the sense of the reality of art via the Internet. Vantablack is the extreme example of this but by its mere existence, it proves that this is the case for all artwork.

The sublime? I think not.

The sublime? I think not.

As Kapoor has stated: “Something happens to your emotional self and in disorientation one has to reach in for other resources.”

This is the sublime and I don’t get that from the screen. But I want it.


BBC News 23 September 2014 ‘How black can black be?’ Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-29326916 [last accessed 5 March 2016]

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