Visual art is typically a lonesome pursuit. The public often has to wait months, if not years, to see new works emerge from studios.
Art Battle turns these concepts upside down. In its five-year existence, the live-painting competition has seen over 300 artists facing off to produce “instant art” in cities across southern Canada.
Amber Church, a local artist andfrequent contributor to What’s Up Yukon, reached out to the organizers when she heard they were “desperate” to hold a contest in the North.
Church rallied to find 12 local artists to compete in Art Battle Whitehorse. This weekend, artists such as Lillian Loponen, Nathalie Parenteau and John Boivin will be on display as they paint competitively.
The artists’ blank canvases will be arranged in a circle on the wharf at the Whitehorse waterfront. There will be two preliminary 20-minute rounds with six artists, who will each create an acrylic painting.
The audience will vote for their favourite paintings, and the two winning artists will face off in a final 20-minute round, with the audience picking the local winner.
After the competition, the paintings will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the artists and to help pay for the event.
Winners from the various participating cities will have a chance to compete in a national championship round in Toronto in July.
Church had no trouble finding artists to participate, but admits that some flat-out refused to paint publicly in battle format. Those who did agree are “excited and nervous,” she says.
Boivin confirms that assessment.
“I’m terrified, to tell you the truth,” he says.
The artist has worked in front of crowds before, at Arts in the Park and as an Artist on the Trail at Miles Canyon. He says the audience isn’t the issue, it’s having to produce a finished painting in just 20 minutes.
Church acknowledges the time crunch puts a lot of pressure on participants, but it’s also a chance for them to “work in a cool, creative challenge.”
Despite his terror, Boivin is excited to see where the pressure will lead him.
He says he has two different processes when he paints. Sometimes he just paints what’s in front of his face. Other times, he intellectualizes the entire process before putting brush to paint.
He figures he’ll have to break the process down to its barest bones for the battle. His only problem is that, “Right now I don’t have any pictures in my head!”
In the worst-case scenario, he jokes, he’ll just stare across the river and paint what he sees.
Church says the competition provides a rare window for the public to peer into the creative process. Generally, art is a finished product, displayed on walls. In one hour on Saturday evening, people will get to watch well-known artists transform blank canvases into works of art.
Artists also don’t usually have to consider public reaction while they are creating. Although Boivin isn’t worried about stage fright, he says it is a competition, so catering to the audience will be a priority.
In preparation for Saturday’s event, Boivin watched some online videos from previous competitions. He says the work is really good, but that’s not what he is focused on.
He falls back on a sports analogy to describe his strategy, joking that he’ll face the competition one game at a time.
“Going into the first round, I’ll give it 110 per cent,” he says. “I’ll worry about the outlook when I get there.”
As far as Church is aware, the Whitehorse competition is the only one being held out-of-doors, and the only one that is free of charge.
The competition has received early support from the community, with donations from Arts Underground and the Yukon Arts Centre. Nakai Theatre and YuKonstruct have publicized the event, and Tim Cameron and Tyler Kuhn are helping to film and photograph the event.
Art Battle takes place Saturday, May 10 from 7-9 p.m. on the wharf in downtown Whitehorse. The event is free, but Church says donations are always welcome.
Freelance writer Meagan Deuling is the newest addition to the What’s Up Yukon editorial team.