Step aside, Vantablack. There’s a new superblack paint in town.
Named to reference the center of a black hole, Singularity Black is a solvent-based paint full of carbon nanotubes that absorb almost all light, from the visible to the long-wave infrared, that falls on them. You can apply it with a brush or even with a spray gun, to make objects look utterly flat, even if their surfaces are incredibly textured. The above screw, for instance, was coated in Singularity Black, and it disappears when set against a sheet of wrinkled aluminum foil, also coated in the pigment.
The paint was developed by Massachusetts-based manufacturer NanoLab, completely independent of Vantablack’s own evolution by the UK-based Surrey NanoSystems. NanoLab has been conducting research for NASA since 2011 to develop nanostructure optical black materials that can suppress glare on the space agency’s equipment, so Singularity Black paint is an especially significant tool for the aerospace and optics community.
But NanoLab is also making it available to artists, unlike Vantablack, to which Anish Kapoor has infamously received exclusive rights to use. The company even has ongoing research and development efforts directed entirely towards the arts community, according to Dr. Colin Preston, a senior research scientist at NanoLab.
“NanoLab offers a coating service to anyone interested in sending us pieces that can withstand the processing conditions for our experienced staff to coat at our lab facility, but we are open to sharing this entire process with any artist that wants to use Singularity Black in their own studio,” Preston told Hyperallergic.
Boston-based artist Jason Chase had the immense privilege of premiering the paint as an art tool a few weeks ago, unveiling in his studio the very first artwork coated in Singularity Black. “Black Iron Ursa” consists of a painted gummy bear sculpture made from cast iron, resting atop a wooden, rainbow-hued carousel that emphasizes the candy’s blackness. It will be on view at Boston’s Laconia Gallery on August 24 and again at Somerville’s Artisan’s Asylum on September 6; Chase and NanoLab’s scientists will be present on both days to field questions from the public on Singularity Black.
“Light and color is a huge percentage of what a painter’s concern is,” Chase told Hyperallergic. “So, absolutely, having the blackest, black paint to incorporate is really interesting. But in order to use it in really smart ways, it’s going to take experimentation, and that’s exciting.”
Singularity Black is technically less black than Vantablack, which is also chock-full of carbon nanotubes. The latter exhibits lower reflectance in the visible range — about 0.2% total hemispherical reflectance (THR) at 700 nm — and Singularity Black exhibits about 1.15% THR at 700 nm, Preston said.
But Singularity Black has the lowest visible reflectance of any paint in the world that is generally available to the public. You can buy it right now, by contacting NanoLab’s sales department, in volumes of 250mL, 500mL, or 1000mL. Preston, however, advises that artists first purchase a 20mL artist sample to experiment with Singularity Black and get acquainted with the prescribed coating techniques and its required treatment process. The artist sample, which resembles a vial of nail polish, costs $30 (shipping not included).
As a specialty paint, Singularity Black comes with a few complications and caveats. Although it has a consistency similar to nail polish, it’s fragile, and will wipe off if you touch it even slightly. Chase also finds that he has to apply at least 15 coats of it for it to display its full capacities. The layers do dry almost instantly — but once completely dry, an artwork has be heated to about 575˚F in air to eliminate a binder in the paint and yield a surface coating that has exceptionally strong light absorbance, as Preston explained. That limits the range of materials that can receive the paint; you’ll be okay with most metals and ceramics, but you can forget about painting your living room walls with the stuff, unless you want to burn your home down in the process. NanoLab hopes to introduce a new version of the paint that requires a much lower processing temperature in the near future, though, so stay tuned. In the meantime, the company is encouraging new users to work with its researchers to achieve the “most dramatic black possible while maintaining proper safety standards,” as Preston said.
“We are working to develop new versions of Singularity Black paint that can drive down its cost while further enhancing its properties,” he added. “This is a very new material, and thus there are still lots of possibilities.”
To Chase, the paint’s complexities represent exciting challenges for artists to work around. He’s been playing with Singularity Black in his studio, testing it on small samples of various materials and along the way posting detailed records of his experiments online so artists can get a better sense of the paint’s potential and its limitations.
“There’s going to be certain things that artists are going to do, where there’s no point in using Singularity Black,” he told Hyperallergic. “You could make a drawing in Singularity Black, but if it’s a piece [that requires] single brushstrokes — like a calligraphy piece — after you bake it, it’s not going to be functioning at the level it can. But I think there can be incredibly avant-garde works made with the implications of looking at something so black that your brain can’t really figure it out.”
His black metal gummy bear is the first of many pieces Chase will make with Singularity Black, and he has plans to one day curate a group exhibition that showcases artworks made with the paint. In our conversation, he emphasized over and over again the importance that the paint be made available to all artists so its possibilities will not be stunted.
“Artists have always been the first to get ahold of new material and technologies and push them to limits that the engineers and scientists didn’t even know were possible,” Chase said. “To be a part of that is so exciting.”