Tuesday, October 15, 2013
By Tony Martins / Photos by Michael Wozniak
You may have noticed that humanity is accelerating. Particularly in the western world, every day, more and more, faster and faster, we aim to do things more swiftly and efficiently. Speed dating is a good (or bad) example, wherein young singles get 5 minutes or so on a succession of “dates” in a merry-go-round of matchmaking that is part social engineering and part spectacle.
Art Battle Canada is a similar kind of head-spinning performance that could be deemed, paradoxically, both unrealistic and liberating. The cross-Canada event series bills itself as “live competitive painting,” in which 12 painters have 20 minutes to complete a canvas using acrylic paints while a standing audience orbits the easels for an up-close view of the creative process. At the end of two preliminary rounds, the audience votes to decide which painters advance to a final round paint-off, in which one artist emerges victorious. The event gives new meaning to Jackson Pollock’s idea of action painting.
An Ottawa edition of Art Battle took place on Tuesday, October 1 at Arts Court and the event was packed with painters and curious observers. Another battle will be contested here on November 4. Sure, it’s a spectacle that draws from the “competitive creativity” so popular right now on reality television, but purists might bristle at the idea that painting under such circumstances can be worthwhile. Can a “good” painting can be completed in 20 minutes? Others might counter with the view that art making need not be a meticulous and painstaking process in every instance. Sometimes great works can be spontaneous, improvised, and the product of swirling chaos.
Angela Hillier, one of the painters who took part at Arts Court, holds this latter view. Hillier was eager to embrace the challenge and painted well enough to be voted into the final round, where she lost out to the overall winner, Allan Charles André.
Currently in her fourth year of the bachelor or fine arts program (BFA) at the University of Ottawa, Hillier took part to “showcase the process of my work," she said. "I wanted to push my limits and see what I could produce in such a unique environment.”
Heading into the event, Hillier was aware of how the confines of Art Battle might contradict some aspects of her BFA studies, particularly “the emphasis put on conceptualizing before creating a work,” she explains. “In this amount of time that cannot be taken as far as usual.”
In another way, however, Art Battle presented an opportunity in keeping with the “focus on process at Ottawa U,” Hillier notes. “Allowing yourself to be expressed without hesitation is the essence of painting for me.”
Once off and running, Hillier seemed to thrive in the noisy and chaotic atmosphere: “The time constraint changed my method, but not too much,” she reported. “Thankfully, I usually paint fairly quickly—one of the reasons I applied—but this pushed it to another level, making me give into my impulses.”
Artist are often thought to be brooding and reclusive figures, but Hillier drew from the throbbing energy in the room. “I was able to tune out what was around me but I chose not to,” said the artist. “The space you paint in influences your work greatly, and I wanted it to even more so under these circumstances. I included the audience by asking them what colour I should use next.”
Although Hillier was happy with the two paintings she ended up with, she was aware of how the competitive aspect may have hindered her success in the final round. “I found I was just more centred in the first one, whereas in the second I was more focused on the competition, which was my downfall,” she explained.
And the key takeaway? “I learned that trusting your immediate responses while creating a work can be extremely rewarding and impossible to plan for. This impulse is something you can't control but it allows for beautiful moments to happen within a work if you let it.”
The next Art Battle in Ottawa takes place Monday, November 4, again in the Arts Court Theatre, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 at the door ($10 for students.)
October 1 Art Battle winner Allan Charles André