Art Battle pits artists against each other in a high-intensity paint-off

Art Battle pits artists against each other in a high-intensity paint-off

Words by Augustus Welby

Inspired by the energy of rap battles, Art Battle launched in New York City in 2001. Art Battle has since hosted time-limited live art tournaments in 100 cities across six continents, and currently averages more than 200 events a year.

“It’s just taking that [rap battle] energy and applying it to artists and art,” says Hayleigh Sanderson, the organiser of Art Battle Melbourne. “Artists spend a lot of time in studios, not surrounded by other people or the energy that comes along with musicians and stuff like that. The founder said to me that the whole point of Art Battle is to create the same excitement around artists as there is around musicians and athletes. It’s a platform for artists to be rock stars, really.”

It’s taken a while for Art Battle to make it to Australia, but regular events have been happening in Sydney since early 2019 and the maiden Melbourne instalment went down at South Melbourne’s Smart Artz Gallery back in April. Sanderson subsequently took over the licence and will relaunch Art Battle Melbourne at Welcome to Thornbury on Saturday August 31.

“Some of the artists include Philip Sayers who has been exhibiting at Ladder Art Space recently,” Sanderson says. “And Ranae Lizdenis, who’s a portrait artist from Melbourne and she competed in Art Battle in Vancouver a few years ago.”

A total of 12 artists will compete in the fast-paced painting contest. There are three 20-minute rounds; two initial rounds featuring six painters before the audience votes to choose the final four. From there, the audience will vote again to crown an overall winner.

“It’s free for artists to enter,” Sanderson says. “We provide everything for them – we provide the canvas, we provide a huge variety of paints – it’s acrylic only, there’s no reference material and it’s [all done] within that 20-minute time frame. Some people create masterpieces in 20 minutes. It’s pretty sensational.”

All 16 artworks are available to take home via silent auction at the end of the night. “Some of the profits of the final round are going towards the Global Women’s Project,” Sanderson says.

Art Battle is intended to be a big fat party and audience members are closely involved in proceedings. Everyone is asked to register their phone number when they arrive and they’re then texted throughout the evening with reminders to vote for their favourite artist.

“We’ve got an interactive area where people doodle on the tables, so it’s a lot for the audience as well as the artists,” says Sanderson. “They feed off each other and there’s a lot of interaction between the artists [and the crowd] while they’re painting, which is quite fun. But it does really come down to the artists and how into it they are, how much of a showman they are and [how much they] come out of their little shells.”

DJ Maxx will be providing the soundtrack at Welcome to Thornbury, hearkening back to the concept’s NYC origins. “He’s going to be playing some funky old school hip hop and a bit of disco. It’ll be fun.”

For Sanderson, there’s more to Art Battle than the contest. It’s a way of bringing people together and fostering a community and a culture.

“I really wanted to do the event in Australia because I took part in it as an artist overseas,” Sanderson says. “The creative community that surrounds you as soon as you immerse yourself in an event like Art Battle… it does come with community and support. That’s what I’m hoping to implement, the creative community surrounding the event. 

“It’s about taking artists out of their studios and putting them in an environment where it’s not so serious and we can all have a bit of fun.”

Art Battle Melbourne goes down at Welcome to Thornbury on Saturday August 31. Painters can register to compete via the event website and punters can grab their tickets via Eventbrite.