Live competitive painting is not for the faint of heart. You don’t need nerves (nor abs) of steel but, you do have to perform under the watchful eye of the judging multitudes. Artists have 20 minutes to transform a canvas and beat their opponents in three rousing rounds.
The venue for Toronto’s Art Battle #9 was The Great Hall, more intimate than its name implies and a popular joint that hosts raves, weddings, and launch parties. An organizer asked me “Artist or Patron?” when I arrived – I had come to observe, not publicly discredit myself, ergo I responded “Patron.” White lights were strung along the balustrade of the mezzanine above while white fabric billowed from the ceiling, fanning out like a four-poster bed. Directly below, smack in the centre of the space, stood four easels and four bar tables, each kitted out with supplies: blobs of acrylic paint, pitchers of water, an assortment of brushes, and a mixing palette.
The body count was 200 that night and, mixed within the crowd, artists eagerly waited to learn whether they’d be participating or not. It was decided on the spot with a draw: a total of eight painters would display their painterly prowess, four in round 1, and four in round 2. The winner of each would meet in a final face off, the evening’s main event.
When the challenges got rolling, the competitors immersed themselves in their work; some toiled slowly and deliberately while others exercised much brush-to-canvas contact. Onlookers, mostly art-inclined 20-30 somethings, surrounded the artists, beer in hand, while the DJ spun ‘dirty electro.’
The host announced milestones: “15 minutes left”, “5 minutes left”, “45 seconds to go…Brushes down, people!” At intermissions, women with black staff t-shirts replenished the materials and spectators swarmed the artwork to take pictures with their iPhones and cast their votes for a winner. At the evening’s end, the pieces were auctioned off.
I liked the energy of the showdown, the friendly competition, and the randomness of the selection process – equal opportunity! You can take part in the underground art scene of Toronto: whether a renegade painter yourself or part of the audience, everyone engages in events in some manner. Have a go!