Who gets to decide what’s on trend? Who controls what the hot, new aesthetic is? Who’s pulling the strings on what’s in vogue?
Now that we’ve officially entered the 2023 trend forecast season, we can’t help but zoom out to ask these questions. Artist, curator, and activist Stuart Semple is contemplating these considerations of power and control right there with us, just as he’s done for years in his relentless pursuit to take down the “Big Color” industry. You might remember Semple’s previous endeavors to liberate the rainbow, which include the release of an open-source acrylic paint called BLACK 2.0 as a rebuttal to Anish Kapoor’s exclusive Vantablack, and his creation of Tiff Blue acrylic paint in an attempt to free the famously copyrighted Tiffany Blue.
Now Semple is at it again, this time taking on Pantone and their recently announced 2023 Color of the Year, Viva Magenta. Semple has already gone after Pantone before, responding to the paywall of the Pantone color palette in Adobe software by launching a free Adobe plugin called Freetone that allows users to use and match colors at no cost. So what’s he got up his sleeve this time around?
For starters, Semple just released a color pigment through his online art supply store, Culture Hustle, that openly mocks Viva Magenta. It’s called Viva Meh-Genta, and 50-gram jars are available for pre-order now for $12.50 a piece. All Viva Meh-Genta sales will help fund Semple’s democratic vision for a crowd-sourced “people’s color of the year” next year, which will be decided upon by the entire art community.
“It’s frustrating that trends are set by corporations, designers, and manufacturers, and then creators seem to fall in line; it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And then they profit so heavily from it,” Semple told me. “Very rarely are these forecasts ever really in sync with the way culture is or how people really feel. I remember a trend forecaster telling me once they were going to make next season about owls, and sure enough, the following year, retail had owls everywhere. I’d love to see a more democratic way of articulating the color of our time or the mood.” Thus the people’s color of the year project was born as a grassroots effort to reclaim some power from big corporations.
“It just feels right to create some kind of democratic platform where anyone who wants to can participate in a process that will result in a color of the year chosen by all,” said Semple. “Hopefully it’ll be a way for us to all come together and challenge Pantone’s Color of the Year next year with something much more open, inclusive, and representative of the world we really live in, rather than a fantasy cooked up by a brand.”