Providing a welcomed change of scenery from your typical young professional sometimes-stuffy art event, the Art Battle National Championships went down on Tuesday night at The Great Hall in Toronto. The talent-packed evening marked the first Art Battle National Championship as artists from across the country participated in the live competitive painting event in hopes of securing the coveted trophy and, of course, accompanying bragging rights. To qualify, all 14 painters are the winners of dozens of Art Battles across the country over the past year.
For those not familiar with Art Battle, the concept is as such: artists are given 20 minutes to create works of art from blank canvases, using only acrylic paint, any non-mechanical implements they devise and their imaginations. In a race against the clock, artists work their magic at back-to-back easels in the centre of the space, in front of a live audience, who choose the winner in a democratic voting process. The pieces are then auctioned off in a silent auction-style bidding war.
It was a full house at the Queen West venue, with two bars and the upper balcony open, providing a birds-eye view of the competition for eager onlookers. Some artists worked with their hands, others with brushes and other tools, but all at unmatched speeds. When the time ran out, they were met with kisses, hugs and high-fives from significant others, friends and family members. When the artists stepped back to expose their works, all were rich with individuality, revealing the personalities of the artists. The paintings featured a variety of colour use, texture and subject matter – ranging from the female form, horses and nature to city scenes and intriguing abstract pieces. For the first-time Art Battle attendee, that these works of art were constructed in a 20-minute time frame was difficult to fathom.
We caught up with Toronto’s Jacqueline Poirier during the second round, just after she had made it through the first, qualifying for the final round. Poirier is a resident artist at Toronto’s Ritz Carlton and hand paints the plates at Toronto YP favourite spot, TOCA, herself. When asked about the nature of the competition, she tells us, “I feel that as an artist, my ability to work under pressure is truly tested during the 20 minutes we are given to paint in front of a live audience. It's definitely nerve-racking and time does fly by, so I usually try to have an idea of what I want to paint before heading to compete. I never know what my competitors are going to create so it’s important to try to come up with something new each time.” She cites the audience’s reaction as a rewarding element and has fun with the creation, adding, “it’s also fun to use different tools to apply the paint, for example, tape, or stencils.”
After a fierce final round, the people’s choice was Vancouver’s Yared Nigussu (pictured, top), whose abstract piece made him the Art Battle National Champion. What was his strategy in the face of intense competition? “I just told myself that I only had 20 minutes and to do something nice within that short time frame,” he tells us. “I set my mind in the 20 minutes and forgot about the competition and what I did in the past or what I plan to do in the future. I focused on being in the moment and doing my best to become the champion.” The mentality paid off, and Nigussu cites the most rewarding moment as watching everybody vote for their favourite painting.
Although it is competitive, the idea behind Art Battle is to allow artists and members of the community to come together and appreciate their love for creativity and talent. For Toronto YP Simon Plashkes and artist K. Hinto, Art Battle marks an initiative to make art accessible, affordable and to highlight young talent. It centres on the idea that “not all art created is equal.” “Art Battle is creating a national dialogue – ‘what is good art?’” says Plashkes. “It brings the enjoyment and appreciation of painting to new places, people, and heights.”
What’s next for Art Battle? Plashkes tells us we can expert more cities and more painters – the committee is currently working on Ottawa, Halifax, Montreal, Winnipeg and more. Furthermore, art-loving YPs can expect to see some big digital innovations to bring the community online.
Top photo courtesy Alex Jones / Art Battle
Article photos courtesy Art Battle