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A Magazine for Sheffield

Art Battle: A Fight on a Painter's Canvas

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Art Battle Manchester. Photo by Richard Crisp (Crispymultimedia)

The image of iron gates slamming shut on creative hopes and dreams is etched onto the minds of many up-and-coming artists. In too many cases, the old guard and their traditions stand between creators and any real possibility of getting their work seen by audiences.

Almost two decades ago, these challenges rung even more true, and, as artistic restlessness for change became evermore palpable, a new kind of exhibition was launched. In 2001, New York City played host to the first of hundreds of 'art battles' to be held across the world in the years following.

At this meeting, artists would come together on the streets to create their works in as little as 20 minutes. The judges were passersby, interested enough to take time out and watch as young hopefuls fought it out on the canvas.

19 years after this first event, 50 countries had signed up to host hundreds of Art Battle competitions. The franchise grew from humble beginnings, weaving its way around the world, first to Canada and China and then to Britain, where Manchester and Bristol took early interest. This year it finds its way to Sheffield via Opus, who are organising the event.

Doug Karson, England's national Art Battle co-ordinator, is passionate about how the format can change the way we look at art. "The ability of the audience to vote on the winner is a real democratisation of an artform that traditionally had only few people in positions of power telling people what to like."

[Competition] forces artists to innovate

But should we be encouraging competition in creation? "Competition pushes people out of their comfort zone to try something new and - as long as it is done in a supportive way - it is beautiful to see how it forces artists to innovate."

Artists compete in rounds at local, national and international levels. This year, those voted through will make it to Tokyo, where the world championships are set to be held in October. It's not enough to be voted the best on the day - you have to do it over and over again.

The first Sheffield event will offer attendees food, drink and the chance to buy art created on the night in a silent auction at the end. DJ Andy H will be playing tunes throughout and in this competition, there's only 20 minutes allotted to create your masterpiece. Participants will battle it out for the chance to compete in London.

Karson sums up: "If you go to a music club or poetry gig with friends, then you don't get to chat with those friends during the performance. At Art Battle, the audience not only gets to see the artists making great work, but it's a unique social experience for them with their groups as well."

Alex Keene

Tickets for Art Battle on Saturday 21 March are £10 via Party For The People

To apply as an artist, go to

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