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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.

  • The Madame

    It’s truly a fun night. The Keyhole Sessions are THRILLED to be welcomed by the amazing peeps at Art Battle! We can’t wait to “spice things up”. :)

  • Anderson

    This sounds like an awesome event, what an interesting concept! I love the idea of democracy in art… makes you feel less intimidated by the whole thing. I’m definitely going to check it out on the 18th!

  • Mark

    Fun event but yes, far too much time between sets. The organizers need to spend less time schmoozing and more time remembering the other 100 people waiting to see something.

  • Noah

    An amazing event that is growing and developing with each “battle.” Check out this full album I posted after covering the event for my blog:

  • Cooper

    I respectfully disagree Mark, I know the organizers and it takes a lot of coordination to run these kinds of events. Setting up and striking for 4 painters is time consuming.

    Might I suggest getting a drink at the bar or meeting new art lovers as opposed to expecting to be entertained every minute. These guys really go all out and nitpicking strike and set up time is a little much.

    I’m going to be at the next one and can’t wait to see what is created.