Patrons check out the paintings at Art Battle Leap Year.

Picture a painter at work.

Chances are, the image you’ve conjured in your mind is that of a solitary creative pursuit – an artist standing in front of a canvas in her quiet studio, far removed from the scores of critical eyes that will judge the finished piece once it hangs in the gallery.

Nothing could be further from the truth at Art Battle. The live competitive painting event has taken over Toronto’s Great Hall on Queen Street West about once a month since October 2009.

It’s a loud, raucous and highly competitive event that pits artist against artist in 15- to 25-minute contests to see who can produce the most desirable work of art.

Tomorrow night’s match promises to be no different.

“It just keeps getting bigger,” says co-creator Chris Pemberton with a smile. We spoke at the most recent battle, a special Leap Year edition held this past
Feb. 29.

He clutches a microphone and paces the crowd of 300, who eagerly gather around the cluster of easels facing each other in the centre of the spot-lit floor.

“10, 9, 8, 7…” – Pemberton leads the crowd in a countdown – “3, 2, 1… Let’s paint!”

The beats blare, and eight artists begin frantically laying down colour on canvas. Once the 25 minutes are up, those in attendance vote on a favourite, a winner is declared, and all the paintings are offered up for sale in a silent auction.

Any art that hasn’t been purchased by the end of the evening is destroyed, often in a highly theatrical manner (think chainsaw).

Results vary wildly. A soft abstract floral arrangement sits next to a Robert Indiana-esque text-based work in brash primary colours. Next to that, a painting of a skull.

Many of the artists are invited by Pemberton and co-creator Simon Plashkes, but there is also usually space reserved at the easel for those who show up with the desire to put their creative process on display. And for West Coast artists, the contest recently made its debut in Vancouver, where battles are co-produced with the help of local art space Raw Canvas (the next battle there will be April 3).

“We’re trying to create a national conversation about what makes good art,” says Plashkes. Thanks to Art Battle, everyone’s talking.

Art Battle 24 takes place Tuesday, March 27 at 7:30pm at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen Street West.
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