Quick notes:

  • Vantablack is the darkest black we’ve ever seen

  • BMW covered a car in it

  • Two artists went head-to-head in a masterful battle of pettiness over this new color

Vantablack is approximately the shade of a goth kid’s soul, and it’s captured the attention of artists and scientists alike. The pigment is almost incomprehensibly black, absorbing up to 99.96% of the light that hits its surface. To the art world, it’s a fresh canvas for abstraction. To the scientific community, it’s the next step in space-age technology. There are numerous things about Vantablack that make it unique: It’s mind-bogglingly matte, it’s licensed to one man to be used and abused at his discretion, and it’s incredibly dangerous and challenging to handle.

Despite these setbacks, Vantablack has made headlines several times since it was first developed back in 2016. Most recently, BMW unveiled an X6 done up in Vantablack VBx2, an even blacker black than before. Depending on who you ask about this particular pigment, the news that comes to mind might be far more sophomoric. The development and licensing of Vantablack come with no shortage of drama, though it did lead to the creation of several other new and striking colors.

The science behind the scenes

Carbon is the original blackest black of the natural world. In the hands of capable nanoscientists, it eventually became the blackest black we’ve ever known. To create Vantablack, scientists coax carbon nanotubules to grow like microscopic forests, creating swathes of tiny towers. When light hits these towers, it reflects over and over again until the energy eventually dissipates as heat. As a result, the pigment reflects next to no light back to the observer, leaving us with a void-like pigment that confounds our brains when painted onto 3D objects. Artistically-speaking, it’s a pretty wild experience. From a scientific standpoint, its uses trend more toward the big picture.

Wikimedia Commons

NASA wants to use Vantablack and its derivatives on its technology. The highly-absorbent pigment would function as a sort of eyeblack for telescopes both on Earth and in space. Stray light would become trapped in the matrix of nanocarbon tubules, allowing the telescopes to focus on those distant galaxies on the fringes of our known universe that would otherwise be drowned out by local light pollution. Vantablack is unstable, toxic, and requires environments capable of handling temperatures of up to 752 degrees Fahrenheit. The exclusive rights to a modified version of the pigment for artistic use were purchased by a single studio, a greedy move that stirred trouble in the artistic community.

An all-art attack

Anish Kapoor is the artist with sole ownership of Vantablack S-VIS, a sprayable, art-ready version of the velvety void-black pigment. When he announced that it was for his use only, other members of the artistic community were none too pleased. One of the most vocal opponents to Kapoor’s selfish move was UK-based artist, Stuart Semple. In retaliation, Semple created a pigment that he called The Pinkest Pink. It’s a bright, happy, vibrant shade of pink that is affordable and available to any artist who wants is — except Anish Kapoor. Thus began a strange saga of petty back-and-forths between Semple and Kapoor. The Pinkest Pink became wildly popular, and, inevitably, Kapoor managed to procure a pot for himself. He shared a photo on social media of his middle finger coated in the pigment powder.

Flickr — Kake

Foiled but not deterred, Semple created a new product, Diamond Dust. The glitter is made of crushed glass shards, making it just as luminous after painting as it was before. Along with Diamond Dust, Semple released his answer to Vantablack: Black 2.0. As far as the human eye can tell, it’s just as dark as Vantablack, costs less than $20 for a bottle, and it’s safe to handle at home. Oh, and it smells like cherries. If you want to sample any of these pigments (and you’re not Anish Kapoor), you can purchase them on Stuart Semple’s website, Culture Hustle. If you want to paint your new BMW an impossible shade of black, it’s still probably going to cost you a pretty penny.

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