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Vantablack Spraypaint: New (and darkest) black on the block

Asad Ali | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 6:00 IST

It's probably a good time to get that black goth look going. Especially if you have access to Vantablack S-VIS. If you were wondering this isn't any obscure dark metal band. It's a spray paint that sprays the blackest shade of black one can imagine.

A black that has a reflectance of less than 0.2% and is about 17 times less reflective than the super-black paint that is used for minimizing stray light in the Hubble space telescope. In normal people speak, it's really really dark.

When you're done toying with the idea of using it to spray over your boss's car post appraisal, you might want to appreciate the many applications Vantablack S-VIS can have. From complex engineering materials, commercial cameras, luxury items and art projects by contemporary artists - particularly street artists - this can be a gamechanger.

Given how Vantablack can actually make a 3D object look flat, street artists can go wild with concepts that make use of this crazy shade of black, whose basic element is a carbon nanotube matrix.

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Anish Kapoor and the origins of "the blackest black"

"The blackest black" has had an interesting run recently in the news circles. The spray paint owes its origins to the original Vantablack shade that was also very recently launched. It absorbs 99.965% of incident visible light, has a reflectance of just 0.20% and - wait for it, only Indian born British artist Anish Kapoor can use it for his art.

Yes, you read that right. The concept and work on Vantablack had been gaining traction over the past couple of years and Kapoor managed to get exclusive rights to the artistic use of this radical colour.

Developed by a British company called Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack was initially intended to be used on stealth satellites and astronomical equipment. Ben Jensen, the company's chief technical officer told the Guardian that "We call this material super black."

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Super black

There is a reason behind it being called super black. The Science Museum in London has, on display, a bust coated in Vantablack. To the naked eye, the sculpture will appear flat because all its depth and three-dimensionality is subsumed by this overpowering material.

The material, which is made of carbon nanotubes, grows pretty fast, Ben Jensen, Surrey NanoSystems company's chief technical officer, tells the Guardian and explains further: "Take one of the hairs on your head. Split that hair 10,000 times and one of the strands that you take away is the size of the tubes that we grow... we grow the tubes like a field of carbon grass. The tubes are spaced apart. When a light particle hits the material, it gets between the tubes and bounces around, is absorbed and converted to heat. Light goes in, but it can't get back out."

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Jensen is quoted on their website explaining that, "The original Vantablack coating marked a major milestone, and is fundamental to many companies developing higher-performance equipment. We continue to develop the technology, and the new sprayable version opens- up a whole new range of applications. Vantablack S-VIS is so effective that its performance far outstrips any other known paint or super-black coating - achieving a reflectance of just 0.20%. This is significantly less reflective than, for example, the super-black paint used for managing stray-light in the Hubble Space Telescope."

Vantablack was initially intended to be used on stealth satellites and astronomical equipment

Lightbulb moment

If you think the trigger for such a discovery would be a serious lab discussion, you'd be wrong. Jensen (ironically perhaps) sheds light on how they made their discovery: "We were in the research lab getting very frustrated. We raced down to the pub and had a lightbulb moment."

Kapoor might have had his lightbulb moment just at the right time when he decided to get exclusive rights to the material. He has been using Vantablack since 2014, and in a 2015 article on Artforum said: "The nanostructure of Vantablack is so small that it virtually has no materiality. It's thinner than a coat of paint and rests on the liminal edge between an imagined thing and an actual one. It's a physical thing that you cannot see, giving it a transcendent or even transcendental dimension, which I think is very compelling."

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Not everyone is happy

But not everyone is happy with Kapoor's monopoly over a pigment though and certainly not other artists. UK based artist Christian Furr, the youngest artist ever commissioned to paint the Queen, is quoted by Daily Mail as saying, "I've never heard of an artist monopolising a material. Using pure black in an artwork grounds it... all the best artists have had a thing for pure black - Turner, Manet, Goya. This black is like dynamite in the art world."'

However, back in 1960, the French artist Yves Klein, had taken on a patent for International Klein Blue (IKB) - a gripping, matte shade of blue that he developed with a Paris paintmaker. That was something Klein developed himself. In this case it's a corporate entity selling rights as it sees fit. And, therein hangs a legal debate that's set to send the art world in a tizzy.

Edited by Sahil Bhalla

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First published: 21 March 2016, 10:19 IST
Asad Ali @asadali1989

Asad Ali is another cattle class journalist trying to cover Current affairs and Culture when he isn't busy not saving the world.