It’s a cold and wet January Saturday evening in Manchester. On the outskirts of the city centre, halfway between the city’s main thoroughfare and the infamous home of Manchester United, crowds of people are steadily making their way towards an old, disused mill. Music pulses from within the building and emanates out through the broken windows. There is anticipation, a feeling that’s somewhat reminiscent of the early stages of the city’s infamous rave scene twenty or so years earlier.
Inside the building the raw brickwork is damaged, doorways are jammed with old rubble and as you follow the crowd through the dusty hallways and into the main ground level room of the mill, it is instantly obvious that something very interesting is happening here. And it is, because Art Battle XI is about to begin.
10 artists will compete against each other with just half an hour to create a work of art under the watchful eyes of 500 people, and battling for the much coveted Golden Paintbrush Award. Music will play, food will be eaten, the drink will flow and by eleven o clock one artist will be crowned the winner.
Before the event starts music fills the room and two exceptionally talented spray artists are at work on their masterpieces along the entire back wall of the room. Featured art work from the ten competing artists is displayed along the walls, available for sale, but also to provide you with a glimpse into their potential before they take to the stage. The stage is empty still with just five canvases on easels and rock show lighting to create the atmosphere and build the tension.
The format of the evening is really simple. Upon arrival you are presented with three tokens (a gold one, a white one and a purple one). Five artists go head to head for half an hour in round one. After round one you vote for your favourite by placing your token in a box by the side of the artists, the votes are counted and the top two go through to the final. The stage is reset and five new artists go to battle for round two and for two more places in the final. The final itself is simply the work of the four artists displayed on the stage and a chance to place your vote for the winner with your final token.
The three rounds are punctuated by a breakdancing dance off, very reminiscent of the early 80’s New York scene where crowds gather round and the dancers compete and yet comply with one another. On the stage, a crew of beatboxers are egging each other onwards with bigger, better and ever complicated sounds and styles produced by nothing else than their mouths and a microphone.
The crowd are loving it all, and the crowd itself is a fascinating mix from all walks of life and all stages of life, and there is an overriding sense of friendliness and camaraderie.
John Macaulay created Art Battle several years ago when he and his wife Sophie decided they wanted to combine their collective knowledge, experience and love of art and gigs. Sophie is an artist and art historian and John is a cultural events specialist. Now on it’s eleventh event, the Art Battle is going from strength to strength and is set in a different location each and every time and with a different theme and vibe. Not only is it a truly great night but 50% of the proceeds of the silent auction, where the 10 artworks are sold off at the end of the night, go to charity.
I was hard pushed to pick my winner as all the finalist’s work was incredible. I put a bid in the silent auction for my favourite piece and I amazingly I won it, and so ended up taking home a painting by artist Chris Dorning. It’s getting pride of place above my desk in the office. I asked Chris afterwards what the experience had been like for him.
‘To be honest before the actual battle. I wasn’t nervous at all, I enjoy drawing life when I do art markets and events but I will admit. That as soon as the time started I realised how much I had in my head and how many details I needed to get down so I started to feel the pressure a bit. I can draw pretty quickly but underestimated the “ink on wet paint” thing…. I was really happy to make the final and really stoked that so many people bought some of my displayed work. Massive thanks to the guys that put the event on.”
Art Battle takes place about three or four times a year and details of the next event are posted on their Facebook page. It’s something really special that you should experience. Me? I’m hooked now, I won’t be missing a single one, I just need to make some room on my walls as things could start to get a little bit cluttered.