Stuart Semple reignites art war with Anish Kapoor ahead of new show

The artist has banned his rival from his new art supplies store ahead of his retrospective Dancing on My Own at the Bermondsey Project Space

A selection of the pigments available at Semple’s ArtShop

The seemingly fizzled-out art war between artists Stuart Semple and Anish Kapoor has been reignited once more by Semple, for the opening of his new ArtShop in Mayfair, London. 

For those in need of a recap, Semple and Kapoor initially came to blows after Kapoor bought the exclusive license use the world’s blackest black, created by a tech company. In response to this, Semple then created the world’s pinkest pink, available for use by anyone other than Kapoor, though Kapoor then apparently got hold of the pigment, as evidenced by a post on Instagram where he was photographed sticking his middle finger in a pot of the colour.

Semple’s pink is on sale at ArtShop, alongside Black 3.0 (the world’s blackest black paint launched earlier this year), and holographic pigments. But Kapoor is banned from the store, with Semple enlisting security on the door just in case he turned up.

While this extension of the row might seem like a bit of a gag (or a PR stunt), for Semple the spat contains a serious point around copyright, money and power. In an interview with CR last year, he compared Kapoor’s action with Yves Klein, who also famously copyrighted a colour. “For Yves Klein [with his blue], it was more of a conceptual stance,” he said. “This was a piece of his work, he made this colour and it meant something to him. Anish Kapoor hasn’t made any colour. A lab has been making this technology and he’s just signed a legal agreement to use it.”

Happy Clouds performance near the Tate Modern, 2009

Semple has long been known for straddling the lines between art and activism, and alongside the ArtShop, fans of Semple can get an extra taste of his controversy at his first London show in over five years at the Bermondsey Project Space, which opens this Friday.

Called Dancing On My Own, the exhibition brings together paintings, sculptures, digital pieces and moving image works spanning 20 years of his career and encompasses some of the themes previously explored in his projects and shows during that time. 

Semple’s artistic career had humble beginnings where he sold his first work on eBay over 20 years ago. For the following three years his pieces were being shared and bought on the site at a rate of three a night. Eventually Semple had created over 3,000 pieces sent to collectors, friends and admirers around the world. 

Comfortably Numb, 2010
A Pounding Outside Poundland, 2010

Since then the artist has had a handful of career-defining and memorable works, including his Happy Cloud piece at Tate Modern, which saw him fill the London skyline with artificial, ‘eco clouds’ in the shape of smiley faces in 2009, and of course the aforementioned ‘art war’ with Kapoor.

Both of these works feature in the show in some way, but it’s also an opportunity to discover the artist’s lesser known paintings, internet-based works and early drawings, some of which have never been seen publicly before. 

Kapoor’s response to Semple’s Pinkest Pink snub

Exploring issues such as British politics, masculinity, social media and its links with mental health, Semple is able to translate these heavy topics into artworks laced with humour and curiosity, but always rooted in making a difference.

“It’s hard to live in a world like this and not want to reflect it, then do something about it. I know in my heart that artists are useful, and I hope some of the things I’ve done have helped somehow somewhere,” explains the artist. “It’s lovely to see the art world opening up and becoming more inclusive and accessible, but sadly there’s a hell of a long way to go when it comes to class.”

Dancing On My Own is on show 9 August – 7 September at the Bermondsey Project Space, London; ArtShop is open now at South Molton Street in London, more info here

SENIOR DESIGNER

London (Euston)

MID-WEIGHT DESIGNER

Harpenden, Hertfordshire

DESIGNER

Witney, Oxfordshire

HEAD OF DESIGN

Winchester