There have been tons of feuds in the history of art, but none like the one between Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple, who literally have been fighting over colors.
The world of art can be as complex as the works they produce. Its history is filled with treason, not so clean competition, and intense feuds between artists only to feed their egos. We have the story of the rivalry between Van Gogh and Gauguin, where allegedly the first one lost his ear. Or even the classic feud between the two greatest Renaissance masters, da Vinci and Michelangelo. There’s even a more violent story in which sculptor Cellini just killed a rival goldsmith and attempted to do the same to another sculptor. I guess it’s in our nature to be competitive, but having the art circle as the setting of these feuds gives it a legendary vibe. Just as art evolves and new movements appear, the nature of these feuds change as well, and the story we're going to talk about is a clear example of this.
This feud –that's actually going on right now– began in 2016, when the renowned contemporary artist Anish Kapoor announced that he had made a deal with the British company Nanosystem to be the only one who could use their Vantablack paint, allegedly the blackest black paint in the world. This unique pigment created with nanotechnology was created with military technology, and Kapoor was the only person in the entire world allowed to use it for artistic purposes. Now, when he released the news, the artistic community wasn’t that happy for him because they saw his actions as selfish towards them.
Stuart Semple, who is known for creating bright and colorful pieces as Kapoor does, was one of the first artists to voice his discontent, arguing that Kapoor's actions went against the spirit of the community. He claimed that when he learned about the pigment, he was so excited to use it in his own work, which makes me think whether this was really an issue of solidarity or envy for not being allowed to experiment with this new pigment.
Semple wasn’t the only one disappointed with Anish Kapoor. Like him, many artists started protesting against the artist and unsuccessfully tried to invalidate the deal between him and Nanosystem. Not being able to do something about it, Semple, who has also devoted some of his artistic career to the scientific development of new pigments and paints to improve his work, decided to do something else. He released a new pigment of pink that is supposed to be the pinkest pink in the world. He started selling it on his website for a retail price of £3.99. Now, there is a catch. Before you can actually purchase the pigment, you have to agree to a legal disclaimer stating that you’re not Anish Kapoor, you’re in no way associated with him nor his art, and you’re not buying the pigment on his behalf.
Of course, if Kapoor wants to get the pigment, there’s nothing impeding him to do so, since there’s no other way to prove you’re not him than your word (actually he posted a photo on Instagram showing his middle finger to the pink paint). However, Semple did this to prove a point: according to him, the artistic community is about solidarity and generosity. The artist added that this isn’t a permanent measure and that Kapoor will be able to get it the moment he allows other artists to use his Vantablack pigment. Now, as if the feud wasn’t ridiculous enough, Kapoor responded to Semple’s move by stating that his black pigment isn’t as useful for artistic purposes, since it’s really difficult to turn it into paint. Still, he didn’t do anything to change its exclusivity rights.
This didn’t end here. Kapoor remained in the eye of the storm when the residents of Camberwell in London started a petition on Change.org to stop the artist from building a new studio in the neighborhood that, according to the neighbors, was blocking the light to their own homes. To make the issue bigger, they contacted Semple, Kapoor’s current nemesis. Semple’s response was to launch an innovative and unique color-changing paint called “Unicorn” that, again, was available for everyone except Anish Kapoor. Since the latter hasn’t changed the exclusivity rights for the pigment, Semple has released a whole line of products like Diamond Dust, the most glittery glitter; Black 2.0, the world’s most matte and flattest black, the greenest green, yellowest yellow, and loveliest blue.
Call it a real artistic war, a marketing move, or just a battle of egos, for me they can keep fighting. One of them is creating amazing and innovative materials while entertaining an audience, which, in my opinion, is what really matters about their feud. To be honest, I don’t know if they’re really fighting, but I love how funny it is and how each comeback only makes their feud even more amusing.
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