Black Light Art

Ultraviolet light is largely employed inthe restoration of ancient paintings. Within the diagnostic methods of examiningthe works under Ultraviolet fluorescence (or black light) is definitely one ofthe most appreciated and popular for its non-invasive nature. The black light-based technique is usedprimarily to investigate the state of deterioration of the work, andparticularly to detect non-original parts of the pictorial fabric. These partstend to emit luminescence and fluorescence phenomena, unlike genuine parts. Mario Agrifoglio was the artist who firstused the black light with its special features of reflectance to build an artisticlanguage. Nowadays there are hundreds of artists who use black light and webegin to see autonomous styles. This article will provide an overview of Agrifoglio's oeuvre and the fundamental thought underlying his artistic practice.

Figure 2: Antique painting under sun light and black light

The Encounter with Black Light

In 1968, Agrifoglio devoted himself to restoration and, in collaboration with Carlo Calvi, restored the four evangelists by Francesco Podesti in the Blessed Sacrament Church. Subsequently he restored the "Chiesa degli Scalzi" minster and a painting, shown on picture, attributed to Rubens.Within these activities he acquired experience on black light use for scientific goals. Agrfoglio enhanced his knowledge on the matter during 1968-69 by studying materials and luminescent substances.

Figure 3: Painting attributed to Rubens and restored by Mario Agrifoglio

Pigment's Reaction to Black Light?

In 1970, he decided to introduce luminescent elements in his pictorial language. He was attracted by the characteristics of the pigments that, under black light, do not respond to subtractive and additive synthesis. Agrifoglio managed to understand these variations from a practical point of view, which allowed a total palette control within this setting. In this period he deepened the study of colour theory, based on the writings of Newton, Goethe, Itten and Albers. He created a series of works to highlight the metameric phenomenon, which most clearly show the relativity of optical sensations, compared to Albers'sresearch. Also his intention wasto broaden Itten's list of colour's contrasts with some new forms and definitions related to black light.

Figure 4: Mario Agrifoglio, 1972 (in daylight on the left and black light on the right)

Figure 5 shows some of these new contrasts named “wdifferences” where a single color can become numerous daytime night colors (see yellows and Browns of the Board)and other named “wconvergences” where numerous sunlight colors become one color under black light.

Figure 5: Mario Agrifoglio, The Chessboard, 1977 (in daylight on the left and black light on the right)

Figure 6 shows a work that was carried out on Commission for the Italian premiere of well-known film Grease. In the same periodof his artistic production, simply guided by aesthetics and poetics offluorescent colors, Agrifoglio starts to create some works that show his control over mixing pigments.

Figure 6: Mario Agrifoglio, Poster for Grease Italian premiere, 1978 (in daylight on the left and black light on the right)

The Mature Period

After this long phase of study Agrifoglio created a personal technique for mixing fluorescent colors with acrylic colors, outside of color theory. He considered the abstraction as the best style, and decided to stick to that as it was particularly suitable to enhance the phenomenological aspects under black light and to link his paintings to his own philosophy derived from taoism. His aesthetic, both in the work illuminated by daylight, and those illuminated by black light, link back to his research for balance, and this is reflected on the canvas, both in the choice of the distribution of the forms and in the choice of the colored masses. Parallel to painting he focused on the theoretical approach trying to show how the light and pigments was made of only two elements; in the attempt to overcome the color theory's trichromatic descriptions with a more abstract framework.

Figure 6 - Mario Agrifoglio, 198


Cover Image: Mario Agrifoglio, 1987