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Toronto’s Art Battle takes a page from the reality TV playbook

Anna Pantchev and Brian Belanger in the final battle (Image: Matthew Hague)

In an attempt to fill the reality arts entertainment void left by Canadian Idol, Toronto’s Art Battle pits would-be Picassos against wannabe Warhols for a paint-off in front of a live audience that eventually votes on a winner. On Tuesday night, we attended the fifth such battle at West Queen West’s Great Hall, where a crowd of art patrons-slash-critics waited expectantly to watch three sets of painters go brush to brush.

The first two sets featured four artists who were randomly (but willingly) pulled from the audience. The final, headline match was a showdown between professionals Anna Pantchev and Brian Belanger. The format was simple: each artist was provided with brushes, a palette topped with globs of bright acrylics, a canvas, some water and an easel; the easels faced one another so the competitors weren’t “inspired” by each other’s work. The sets lasted 20 minutes, with the painters working under bright spotlights, pulsing house beats and the watchful eyes of the 100-plus-person audience. When the “masterpieces” (and we use that term loosely) were finished, the crowd cast  votes for the best in show. The prize: a warm round of applause and an edge in the auction of the works that follows each set (one winner sold his colourful abstract piece for $105, and all but one of the paintings, a beach scene, found a home).

Art Battle is the brainchild of Simon Plashkes and artist K. Hinto, and was born out of the credo that “not all art created is equal.” Having watched the event, we certainly know how true that is, especially when four of the 10 artists of the night defaulted to the same subject matter—portraits of women—with an incredibly wide range of results. But the major flaw of the event was the long period of time between sets. Turns out that watching paint dry is as fun as they say it is.

We’re cautiously excited that the next battle on May 18 (again at the Great Hall) will spice things up. As a finale, the artists will be given a subject matter: nude models wrapped in Shibari-inspired rope bondage.