In recent years, Stuart Semple has perhaps been best known for his hilarious spat with Anish Kapoor in response to the latter’s purchase of exclusive artistic rights to the “world’s blackest material”, Vantablack, in 2016.
Semple’s response? To release “the world’s pinkest pink”; available to buy to everyone, except Kapoor. “We all remember kids at school who wouldn’t share their colouring pencils, but then they ended up on their own with no friends,” says Semple. “It’s cool, Anish can have his black. But the rest of us will be playing with the rainbow!”
Those purchasing the pigment had to make a legal declaration at the online checkout confirming 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 that hands of Anish Kapoor.”
As well as taking on numerous commissions, many of which are public works, the piece aligns with much of his socially engaged work – Semple is an ambassador for mental health charity Mind. Previous projects have included Happy City, which comprises an app and a series of public art interventions and interactive projects that aim to “connect strangers and swap fear for connection in public space”.
Semple has now come up with the rather brilliant idea of releasing an Artistic License, sold through his culture Hustle platform. Created as a physical tool to inspire creativity and innovation for individuals and organisations, it also doubles as a £25 gift card that can be used to buy cultureHustle art supplies “for the boundary-pushing artist in your life”.
The idea behind the Artistic License is to make artists’ talents official, in a similar way to how a driver’s license means you can officially drive. However, unlike a driver’s license, you don’t have to have any pre-qualification to hold it.
While the “art world” has traditionally been rooted to certain hierarchical ways of measuring creative success – a degree from the right art school, a show at an established gallery, for instance – the Artistic License card means that artists can now have the confidence to create the work they’ve always wanted to, but have perhaps been too intimidated or self-doubting to realise. If they find someone questioning their work or their integrity, they can flash their Artistic License.
The card is a wry, playful manifestation of Semple’s belief that everyone, no matter their background, should champion the very human desire to make art. The notion of an “artistic license” has been used by and bestowed on people as tacit permission to make what the hell they like; but the simple existence of the phrase sadly hasn’t protected people from either critical judgement, art world nepotism or hierarchies based around particular art schools, “scenes” and galleries.
“I’m an artist, but no one gave me permission to do it. In fact, people went out of their way to put me off,” says Semple.
“They told me I’d end up starving after chopping my ear off. I’m dedicating these licenses to every kid who was ever told they couldn’t. Hopefully, there’s something empowering about having a license to solidify that you’re entitled to create, now anyone can be a legit, licensed artist.”