What happens when traditional Turkish paper art meets body painting and rave culture? Just ask Black Light Visuals, creators of a blacklight-reactive body marbling technique that’s making waves in the festival scene.
Body marbling is the brainchild of Brad Lawrence, a Detroit-based artist who grew up screenprinting psychedelic posters with his father. After graduating from art school, he was diagnosed with chronic tendonitis and adopted "hydro-dyeing"—the process of painting things by dipping them in a layer of paint floating on water—as a form of art therapy. Beginning at Cirque du Womp in Detroit, and fine-tuning his technique at parties and festivals, Lawrence eventually attracted a tight-knit crew of fellow artists, and they took their show on the road.
“The dip is a pretty magical thing,” says Morgan Lawrence, Brad’s cousin and crewmember. “And it's different for each person […] We've dipped everything from women's pregnant bellies to full bodies.” At Electric Forest in 2015, an entire wedding party dipped their clothing and skin. Swirling together visible-spectrum paints with UV-reactive glazes, the “dip” creates a pretty pattern in daylight, and completely transforms its wearer under a blacklight.
This process is based on ebru, the traditional Turkish technique of paper marbling. Paint is dripped into a pool of water, then gently swirled to create a pattern. Anything dipped into the pool will emerge with a thin layer of paint applied. “Marbling itself has been around for centuries,” Morgan says, “but until these past few years, no one had successfully created a skin safe body painting process using the effects of marbling.” Brad spent hundreds of hours experimenting with techniques and paints to develop his process. In other words: don’t try this at home.
Black Light Visuals’ business is growing, but its crew stays grounded in the art and their community. “Since the very beginning, we've focused on the healing aspects of art and working as a team,” Morgan says, “so we can all build, create, and succeed together. Each of us has our own interests and talents outside of the company, and it has always been a priority for each of us to continue creating our own art, while bringing those skills to the table for the company.”
Art as healing process—as a psychological and physical experience of working through trauma—is truly a theme with this crew. “Some of the more notable experiences have happened when an individual has scarring,” Morgan says, “whether from a past of surgeries, self-harm, or burns. Even when stories aren't shared, the looks of happiness after the dip are incredible. Being able to literally color over old scars and turn them into works of art without tattooing is an incredible thing, and those moments radiate with all kinds of emotions between both the guest and the painter.”
Black Light Visuals can be booked for your show, school, or company event—or buy UV-reactive marbled clothing on their website.