Brad Lawrence was in the midst of completing a giant drawing commission when he started feeling shocks of pain in his forearms. It was the diagnosis that anyone who makes a living relying on his or her hands dreads: tendinitis. Only a year after graduating from the College for Creative Studies’ Fine Arts program and Lawrence was forced to rethink his career.
Meanwhile, Lawrence’s childhood friend Michael Zach was recovering from a shocking blow of his own. While deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan, Zach was wounded by gunshot, and doctors said he’d never walk again. After three years of physical therapy he was able to get back on his feet, but he too found himself at a career crossroads. It was around this time, with Zach learning to walk again and Lawrence getting diagnosed with tendinitis, that the two reconnected.
“I went to art school and he went to the Marines, and life brought us back together,” says Lawrence, who played soccer with Zach as a kid. Before getting diagnosed with tendinitis, Lawrence had experimented with a technique known as hydrodying, a process that involves floating different pigments on the surface of water and dunking a medium into it, with psychedelic results. Though Zach had no experience with art before joining the Marines, the two began using the process to create art, despite their new physical limitations.
“This is my way to still remain creative because I can’t body paint people by hand anymore,” he says. “It’s kind of my loophole.”
The two have taken their art from their home base in a Clarkston appliance store basement to journeys out on the road, applying the hydrodying process to human canvases at music festivals from Michigan’s Electric Forest to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando.
The two set up a tank of water, and slowly dunk their participants into it. “Whatever touches their skin will stick,” Lawrence explains. “It prints the waves onto people. When we’re going to concert venues, people move to the music, and it transfers that ripple-effect. It’s like painting sound waves.”
The psychedelic effect is appealing to ravers, who welcome the chance to take a break from dancing to strip down and take a dip, and the process allows Lawrence and Zach to paint many people quickly. Lawrence says that at last November’s Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando, the two painted more than 4,000 people in two days.
Lawrence got the initial idea to do art at music fests while still at CCS, when he decided to hawk some shirts he’d been painting at the Movement electronic music festival. “I took a rack of my T-shirts that I was painting and just walked down there because I lived so close,” he says. “I ended up selling every single one on the rack. And then I just folded down the rack and went into [Movement].”
He says the process is completely safe, using water-based pigments and nontoxic chemicals. “Just about everything we use is found in foods that we eat and consume every day. It’s totally safe for skin,” Lawrence says. “We can dump our tanks out at the end and not kill anybody or harm the environment.”
In the winter, Lawrence and Zach haven’t had many opportunities to paint scantily clad concert-goers, but they’ve been spending their downtime doing fine-art photo shoots with models. They also paint hats and T-shirts using the same process, and have hosted art-making educational workshops with kids as well.
Lawrence is coy about the details of the process, but for good reason — tripping people out is a big part of the appeal. “A huge element of ours is mystery, playing off of ideas of something that somebody’s never seen,” he says. “It’s kind of mind-boggling to people. It’s honestly like a magic trick — if the magic’s revealed, they aren’t able to appreciate it as much.”
For more information, see blvisuals.com.