- February 27, 2019
Last year, a dozen contestants met on the field of honor — aka the Selby Public Library rotunda — to do battle. With its weapon of choice, brushes at close range, the speed-painting competition that has been gaining a worldwide following made its debut in Sarasota.
“We’d been trying to get one in Sarasota for a couple of years,” says Jim Shirley, the executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. When they finally did, the inaugural Art Battle Sarasota was everything it was hoped to be.
“People really loved it,” Shirley says.
Organizers for Art Battle were just as impressed with Sarasota. Once the smoke cleared, or rather, when the paint dried, “we told them we want to do it again, but we wanted to expand the ability for people in the community to participate,” Shirley says.
Art Battle was all in on the idea, so this year, Sarasota County will be hosting two regional Art Battles on consecutive nights: Friday, Jan. 24 at the Venice Art Center and Saturday, Jan. 25 at Art Center Sarasota.
Then for the coup de grâce, the Florida Art Battle state final will be held March 14 at Selby Library.
For those who laid low last year
and might not be familiar with Art Battle, it is a competition in which painters start with a blank canvas and, using identical materials — their personal brushes being the one exception — have 20 minutes to create a picture.
If it sounds like art with an “X Games” attitude, it sort of is. Art Battle was created in 2001 by New York City artists as a rejection of the city’s elitist art scene. They literally took art to the streets, with the first battles being single-round, outdoor events.
The fine-art-meets-street-performance concept proved popular, and it became organized. In 2009, Art Battle took on the tournament form it has today.
Each event features 12 artists who are split into two groups that compete in successive 20-minute rounds. When time is up, the winners are chosen by audience vote. The top two from each round move onto a final round, where they have to complete another painting in 20 minutes. The audience then votes for the winner of the tournament.
There are more than 250 Art Battle competitions scheduled worldwide in 2020, all leading to the Art Battle World Championship in Tokyo in October.
Here in Sarasota last year, the focus was on Art Battle simply as a night of entertainment. The scene in and around the Selby Library rotunda was hardly library-like. With a bar, a concession stand, music, dramatic lighting and the crowd gathered around, it was more like a cross between a performance and a sporting event.
Because of its two viewing levels, the rotunda makes for the perfect Art Battle arena, Shirley says, which is why Art Battle organizers were so keen on holding the state finals here this year.
“It’s meant to be an engaging situation,” Shirley says. “It’s high energy.” And, he adds, it’s a different way of looking at art.
“What I like most about [it] is the people that attend are getting a chance to see art being created, as opposed to going into the museum and viewing it on the wall,” he says. And an event like this is a way of engaging the folks who don’t often frequent galleries or museums.
The alliance’s mission is to serve the entire community. By comparison, Shirley says, think about music. Some people like opera, while others prefer country. Art Battle is the painting equivalent of a hoedown.
And the established art community gets that, Shirley says. Last year, several accomplished local artists came to him and said, “‘Gosh, I’d like to do that, but I don’t think I could,’” he says.
But they couldn’t wait to watch.
It does take a certain skill set to be able to knock out a painting in 20 minutes surrounded by a cheering crowd.
“And I have to tell you,” Shirley says, “some of the art that came out of it was really nothing short of spectacular. I was amazed at what ended up on those canvases.”
After the event, the paintings are sold by silent auction, and the money goes to the artists, which just adds to the event being a win for everyone.
Speaking of winning, the two winners at the Venice and Sarasota regional battles will be among the state finalists in March, along with the 2019 Sarasota Art Battle winner, Judy Robertson, so spectators can root for the hometown heroes.
But if you want to wear the home colors, sorry, they’re kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing.