Semple Launches Blood-Mixed Paint Collection
British artist Stuart Semple has recently found himself at the center of controversy with his latest product launch: the Gay Blood Collection.
Developed with creative agency Mother, Semple’s red paint collection is reportedly an act of protest against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s policies banning gay men from donating blood.
In January, NBC News shared that members of Congress were calling on the FDA to further ease blood donor restrictions on sexually active gay and bisexual men amid a national blood shortage.
Prior to the easing of requirements, back in the early ‘80s when the AIDS crisis was front and center, the FDA had a lifetime ban on “men who have sex with men” from donating blood as a means to keep HIV out of the blood supply. In 2015, the FDA replaced the ban with a one-year abstinence requirement.
After the country started to experience a blood shortage as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA was pushed to reduce abstinence bans to just three months in April 2020. The latest call for easing restrictions comes as the shortage has only worsened, with Red Cross reporting a one-day supply of critical blood types due to a 10% decline in donations.
As a result of FDA’s policies—which have been criticized as “outdated and homophobic”—Semple started by printing T-shirts with ink made with the blood of gay men. The initiative then grew into a full product launch which includes a fountain pen, screen printing ink, acrylic paint, spray paint and a marker.
Semple went on to explain to reporters that creating the Gay Blood Collection was not one of his easiest products, as blood is not great for making effective colorants—even when you have a history of mixing pigments and democratizing colors.
Something else to consider when using blood as an ingredient in paint is that if not stored properly, the blood component could grow bacteria. As a result, when exposed to the air, it will turn brown.
According to Semple, the collection uses a combination of mineral and synthetic pigments, in addition to trace amounts of actual blood.
“I’m not relying on [the blood] to boost the color or make it stick,” Semple said. “I’m relying on it to convey meaning.”
All proceeds from the sale of Semple’s collection will benefit the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a New York primary care facility serving LGBTQ+ communities.
Other Semple Paints
Back in 2016, Semple created what he calls the pinkest paint ever developed. Available to everyone but longtime rival Anish Kapoor, the brilliant color was sold in powdered form at the time of its debut.
In a rejoinder to Kapoor and Surrey Nanosystems, which earlier that year licensed its Vantablack coating exclusively to Kapoor, the pink came with an agreement:
By adding this product to your cart you confirm 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 it's [sic] way into that [sic] hands of Anish Kapoor.
The controversy between the two originally erupted roughly a year earlier when Surrey, developers of Vantablack, the “world’s blackest coating,’ agreed to license its use in art exclusively to Kapoor, an Indian-born British sculptor known for works like “Cloud Gate,” the Chicago sculpture known as “The Bean.” (The move even inspired a satirical article suggesting that Kapoor had painted “Cloud Gate” with Vantablack, rendering it a giant, bean-shaped void.)
Vantablack has far more potential uses in aerospace and industrial applications than art—it’s not currently mass-produced, and isn’t particularly simple for a layperson to apply.
Semple admits that while Vantablack can be quantified as the blackest black, based on its absorption of 99.96% of light that hits it, his pink may not literally be the pinkest pink. But it is pretty bright.
And for those who aren’t into pink—and are also not Anish Kapoor—at the time, Semple also added a new paint to his palette: Diamond Dust, the “world’s most glittery glitter.”
The following year, Semple released new color-changing paints Phaze and Shift. The products, again, were made available to anyone—except Kapoor.
Phaze was described as leaving an ultra-matte coat that changes from purple to bright pink when exposed to heat over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Shift can be applied over Semple’s Blackest Black to form a multi-colored, almost iridescent sheen.
The secret behind the paint’s ability to change color? Chiral nematic liquid crystal. Semple has described it as “living substance, more expensive than gold.” The liquid crystal is sold in a bottle of rainbow fluid, which needs to be stored in a refrigerator and shaken once in a while to keep it “alive.”
In 2019, Semple and his team created what he calls “a black hole in a bottle”—a black matte paint that absorbs 98-99% of visible light. Also referred to as Black 3.0, the color (or lack of color), was released from beta testing that January and entered the market.
Most recently, in 2021 Semple announced his creation of the “whitest white paint.”
Dubbed “White 2.0,” the coating was developed using a specialty acrylic base, high-quality pigments, resins, optical brighteners and mattifiers. The new white paint is reported to reflect 99.98% of light and is 50% brighter than current bestselling white paints on the market.
During the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown, Semple, alongside some members of his team, took to the lab with the goal of creating the whitest white paint. For their research, the crew looked at the structure of Cyphochilus beetle wings—also known as the “ghost beetle”—which are known to be the whitest natural material on the planet.
Semple reported that the team also looked at luminescence in plants and natural whites that reflect light across the whole visible spectrum.
In April 2020, Semple and his team announced three Beta versions of the coating and invited 2,000 artists to trial the materials and fill out a questionnaire. In the fight against what Semple calls “color criminals,” the artist had already legally banned T-Mobile, Dupont, Anish Kapoor and others from using the coating while he sought out what paint users were looking for.
After a trial-and-error period, a final version of the paint was created using instant recoat technology, meaning that the paint wouldn’t need multiple layers to achieve the desired opaque effect. The coating can be applied by brush or spray applications to a variety of surfaces, such as paper, wood, metal and glass.
White 2.0 is now commercially available to anyone (besides those banned) regardless of their artistic capabilities.