Staring Into the Abyss with Vantablack – The Blackest Black Human Eyes Have Ever Seen


Staring Into the Abyss with Vantablack – The Blackest Black Human Eyes Have Ever Seen

Staring Into the Abyss with Vantablack - The Blackest Black Human Eyes Have Ever Seen
Vantablack, which absorbs almost all light that hits it. Photograph: Surrey Nano Systems

Some people say that “orange is the new black”. Maybe it has something to do with the recent US presidential elections, or maybe not. Not that long ago, pink was also the new black, or so the saying went. But in reality, the new black, the real “blackest” black, is actually Vantablack. This material holds, at least for the time being, the Guinness Book of Records title for the blackest thing made by man, and second only to a black hole. It’s so black, almost no light escapes it. And if someone were to make, let’s say, a dress out of it, it would appear truly two-dimensional, no matter how curvy the wearer would be. It was developed back in 2014 by the British company Surrey NanoSystems, using incredibly tiny strands of carbon nanotubes.


“It grows very quickly,” says Ben Jensen, the company’s chief technical officer. “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.”

image via
image via

Carbon nanotubing came into existence during the 1990’s, and since then, more and more advancements were made in various scientifical fields by using the technology. Vantablack, holds a Total Hemispherical Reflectance, or THR, of 0.035%, meaning that 99.965% of all the light that hits it will never be seen again. The light that gets trapped in, will, of course, be turned into heat, so, if you’ll ever find yourself wearing a shirt made out of Vantablak material, we suggest you not wear it under summer’s scorching sun; or not even in a brightly lit room, for that matter.

The practical applications of Vantablack go way beyond fashion and can be used in state of the art, super-powerful telescopes, blocking most of the light and allowing these telescopes to see the faintest of stars in the universe. It undoubtedly has military applications as well, due to its masking ability, working very well for stealth aircraft.

To be fair, though, NASA has been working on its own forms of super-black, coming as close as 0.04% in terms of THR. Though the difference is not big by comparison to Vantablack, it will surely prove more useful when dealing with the seemingly infinite universe and countless stars within it. What’s more, Vantablack is created at temperatures of 400C, compared to 750C, which NASA was able to produce. This means that it can be applied and grown on lighter materials, such as aluminium, vastly increasing its practical applications.

Vantablack and the Fine Arts

It comes as no surprise to many that artists are now looking to make use of Vantablack in their works. After all, colours are the lifeline of many artists and a truly stunning one, especially a black that one can lose himself into, can worth its weight in gold. Since 2014, Anish Kapoor, arguably one of the greatest colourist in the 21st-century art, has been using Vantablack in his works.

“The problem is that colour is so emotive – especially black … I don’t think the same response would occur if it was white,” Kapoor says.

“Perhaps the darkest black is the black we carry within ourselves,” he continues. “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.”

And in the meantime, Kapoor was able to secure the exclusive rights on Vantablack when it comes to any artistic endeavour. Unsurprisingly, this development has resulted in a wave of uproar all across the artistic community. However, NanoSystems, the company which created Vantablack, has confirmed Anish Kapoor’s sole rights to use their invention. From their point of view, at least, it was better to associate themselves and their creation with one of the best-received artists, rather than everyone who could get their hands on the abyss-like material.

In any case, this is not the first time artists are hoarding unique colours for their sole benefit. This practice has been taking place all throughout history, and even to this day, there are colours whose recipes were lost alongside the artists who discovered them. And even if black is not a colour per se, nor is Vantablack an actual pigment, but a material, the exact same thing applies here.

But since the artistic community couldn’t stand idly by, British artist Stuart Semple, has retorted with one of the best comebacks possible. He has released a new pigment of pink paint, called PINK onto the market. And this is not any ordinary pink colour either, mind you, but the pinkest pink ever created. What’s more, anyone is able to purchase it…except Anish Kapoor.

image: Stuart Semple
image: Stuart Semple

“When I first heard that Anish had the exclusive rights to the blackest black I was really disappointed,” Semple told The Creators Project. “I was desperate to have a play with it in my own work and I knew lots of other artists who wanted to use it too.

It just seemed really mean-spirited and against the spirit of generosity that most artists who make and share their work are driven by. I thought a good comment would be if I made a paint that was available to everyone but excludes him from using it. That way he can have a taste of his own medicine!”

Anyone who wants to buy a sample of PINK pigment has to make a statutory declaration, stating that “you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor.”