Part creative incubator, part competitive sport, part live auction, part party: that’s Art Battle in a nutshell. President Simon Plashkes calls it “a combination of Iron Chef, The Price is Right, and Bob Ross … on drugs.” No matter how you analogize it, Art Battle turns painting into a live tournament of talent, and brings people together to create and revel in art. 

Art Battle started in 2001 in New York City. Early incarnations of the event consisted of ad hoc performances throughout NYC, hosted by a network of artists and their friends. When he got involved in 2009, Simon was moved by what he felt to be a burgeoning “democracy movement in art,” which stood in stark contrast to “a counterpart of curators and gallerists essentially operating in secret, which is how it felt to us at the time as young artists.” Simon and his cohort aimed to divorce art from any pretensions.

“I like to tinker with the world around me and create beautiful things,” says Simon. “My focus is on helping others see their art shine. I love bringing people together and helping people see the world of the artist.”  

“Let the people decide” 

Every Art Battle event begins with live painting. Artists — both amateur and established —  create the best work they can in 20 minutes. Everyone works with the same supply of brushes and acrylic paint. Meanwhile, guests mill around the easels, watching the creative process unfold in real time. Simon notes, “the audience contributes their energy, and the artists translate this into their work.” That energy is palpable.

 At the end of each round, the audience votes on their favorite piece after all, Art Battle’s motto is “let the people decide.” The canvases invariably represent a huge range of artistic styles and possibilities, from hyperrealism to highly abstract and everything in between. The top four artists go head-to-head in a final round, creating brand new works again. Once the votes are tallied, Art Battle’s winner is crowned.

“I like to tinker with the world around me and create beautiful things. My focus is on helping others see their art shine. I love bringing people together and helping people see the world of the artist.”   

All paintings are up for bid in a silent auction, so attendees can leave with a piece they love to hang in their home. The night also includes stage performances, a DJ (artists can take a dance break between rounds), and drinks — it’s a buzzy party atmosphere with art at its heart.

Merging global and local 

When Simon joined the team, he began to grow his vision of Art Battle from a local project to an international movement, “from a handful of individual performances to a truly worldwide tournament,” he explains. New York’s Art Battles gave way to Art Battles in Toronto. Slowly but surely, Art Battle grew. Today, they’ve hosted more than 2500 events in more than 50 cities around the world, from Omaha to Ottawa to Belgrade, Serbia.  

With each event, the production gets more practiced and perfected. “Our goal is to take the best of what we’ve done and mix it with the local artist community,” says Simon. An event in San Francisco won’t feel like an event in Tokyo. Each reflects local personality and soul, despite a similar run of show.  

 Sometimes Art Battle translates seamlessly into new places and cultures, and sometimes the transition can be awkward. “In Japan, voting to determine the winner was sort of a foreign concept, as was the live auction,” Simon reflects. To navigate the cultural differences, Simon and his team went back to the drawing board. “We rephrased how we explained who would help determine the winner,” Simon says. “We said it would be a collaboration between the artists themselves, people who have purchased art before … and your opinion matters here, too.” That seemed to do the trick, and Art Battle has been a huge success in Japan.

“We have a shared direction and a common purpose that has never felt more critical — a celebration of art and artists.”

Simon and his team were used to growing constantly when the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world. “We went from 12 events in a single weekend to zero,” Simon remembers. Except for a limited number of online events, they’ve used the last few years to “reset, refresh, and reengage.” 

What’s next? Simon says he’s “more excited about what we do than ever before. We have a shared direction and a common purpose that has never felt more critical — a celebration of art and artists.”

As live events gear back up, Simon values the unique effect of communal art making. That’s why he celebrates Art Battle’s “congregational aspect,” he says. “The people there are open to connection and open to engaging,” which creates a sort of magic. The artists feel it and the guests feel it. Everyone leaves inspired. 

Interested in attending one of Art Battle’s competitions? Follow Art Battle International on Eventbrite to be alerted when new events are added.

Up next: Read our creator spotlight on how Bob’s Dance Shop Spreads Joy … and Cardio.

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