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Artists Can Now Buy One of the World’s Blackest Blacks

Singularity Black is not the blackest hue out there, but it is the darkest color currently available to the general public

"Black Iron Ursa" by Jason Chase (Jason Chase)
smithsonian.com

First, there was Vantablack, a light-absorbing material that gave us the world’s blackest black. Then, in March of this year, the scientists who created Vantablack announced that they had created an even darker coating—a black so black it can make lasers disappear. And now there is Singularity Black, a supremely dark paint that was recently unveiled by a Massachusetts-based lab, as Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic. Singularity Black is not the blackest black in all the land, but it is the darkest paint currently available to the general public.

Named after the gravitational phenomena predicted to lurk at the center of a black hole, Singularity Black combines carbon nanotubes, which absorb and trap light, with a binding agent.  The paint was created by NanoLab under contract with NASA. As Sarah Cascone explains for ArtNet, the space agency uses Singularity Black to absorb stray light that would otherwise interfere with sensors on observation equipment. When applied to 3-D objects, the paint can make even the most textured surfaces appear flat.

NanoLab developed its pigment independently of Surrey Nanosystems, the UK lab that created Vantablack. Singularity Black is not as dark as its counterpart across the pond, which absorbs 99.96 percent of light. Vantablack “exhibits lower reflectance in the visible range—about 0.2 percent total hemispherical reflectance (THR) at 700 nm,” Voon writes. Singularity Black, by contrast, “exhibits about 1.15 percent THR at 700 nm.”

But unlike Vantablack, Singularity Black is available for all artists to purchase and use. Back in 2016, British artist Anish Kapoor caused a firestorm when he acquired the exclusive rights to use Vantablack in an artistic capacity. The artist Stuart Semple was so incensed that he created the world’s “pinkest pink” and “most glittery glitter,” which he made accessible to all artists except Kapoor. Kapoor responded by posting an Instagram photo of his middle finger coated in Semple’s pinky pigment. Semple later released his own "Black 2.0," a non-nanotube matte black paint that not the blackest, but is much easier to work with than the darker Vantablack. 

Singularity Black has already been used by artist Jason Chase, who helped debut the paint at his Massachusetts studio. As Bethany Ao reports for the Boston Globe, Chase sculpted cast iron into the shape of a gummy bear, coated it in Singularity Black, and placed it atop a rainbow-colored carousel to emphasize its blackness. He called the sculpture Black Iron Ursa.

“Being the first artist to use this technology, I want to share it with my fellow artists and collectors,” Chase says in a statement. “It is important to create access so artists can use it. Artists are always the ones who take new materials and push them to new limits. This super black paint and its possibilities have been stunted by not being available to experiment with.  Starting with my work those days are over.”

Granted, Singularity Black is not the easiest pigment to use. It is very fragile, and will rub off with even the slightest touch. Chase tells Voon of Hyperallergic that he had to apply about 15 layers to get the desired effect. And because Singularity Black has to be heated to about 575˚F to eliminate the binder in the painting, it can only be applied to materials that are able to withstand extreme temperatures.

The release of this new color doesn't seem to have cooled tensions between Semple and Kapoor. In an Instagram post last week, Semple commended the development of Singularity Black. "[B]ut it's still hundreds of pounds for a tiny bit and needs to be cooked at 600 degrees," he writes, captioning an image of a sculpture mimicking Chase's Black Iron Ursa. Semple's work was created using materials all sourced from his own store, Culture Hustle.

The team behind Singularity Black believes there is a market for the fickle pigment. When Black Iron Ursa goes on view later this summer—the sculpture will be displayed at Boston’s Laconia Gallery on August 24, and then again at the Artist’s Asylum in Somerville, MA. on September 6—Jason Chase and researchers from NanoLab will be on hand to answer questions about the paint’s application.

If the pigment takes off in the artworld, super black could very well be the next new black.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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