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Iron Chef for fine art? Watch artists paint in timed event at Seattle Center

The pop-event showcases artists painting simultaneously in front of a live audience, who cast votes for the winner. #k5evening

SEATTLE — A pop-up event in Seattle is creating the ultimate bridge between performance and art.

Art Battle Seattle is a timed event featuring 12 artists on a stage, working simultaneously in front of a live audience. When time runs out, the artists have to put down their tools and spectators vote on a winner.

Susannah Youngquist and Dane Wendleton run the event.

"12 artists compete in three rounds of 20 minutes each,” she explained. "20 minutes to create whatever they want on the canvas provided.”

"We're basically giving visual artists a microphone,” Wendleton added. “We're bringing a performance artist crowd into the visual arts."

It’s a daunting task for artists who often spend days or months on their pieces, but participant Rob Carlos said it’s thrilling.

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"We have a stage. If you're not performing when you're on stage, you probably did something wrong,” he said. "The excitement of the people around you soaks in. Even if you don't see them, you feel it. You feel it happening and you feel how enthusiastic they're getting about what they're seeing happening in front of them."

Fellow Seattle-based artist narboo (Brandon Michael Baker) said he also feeds off a crowd’s energy, but was skeptical about how he would execute a painting within the time limit.

"Crazy,” he said, laughing. “Bold lines and crisp colors are my thing, so trying to get that in 20 minutes? I'll see. I might have to add a new little vibe to my style tonight. Might be some drippy paint involved.”

At the August 2022 event inside Seattle Center's Armory, an announcer introduced each artist with the panache of a prize fight. The stage was placed in the center of the room and when the timer activated, a DJ spun records while the audience moved in a counter-clockwise circle around the stage to watch the paintings progress.

Artist Anna Bostrom said the atmosphere and pressure actually benefit her work.

"When you're under a timer, you don't really have time to overthink so you end up putting your best on the canvas and from that, you realize things about yourself that you didn't know were there,” she said.

Fellow artist Xin Xin agreed. She specializes "slow healing" art but is attracted to the speed of Art Battle.

"It's very exciting, just the energy and everyone's circling around you like fish in a pond, and everyone's looking at your work,” she said. "It's just such a great experience."

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Moments of discovery, evolution, and — for the audience — childlike wonder are what drive Wendleton and Youngquist.

"I spent 25 years working in tech and everything I did was to advance corporate greed,” Wendleton said. "I knew my next job had to be something with more meaning to it, something where I could actually help a community."

Art Battle Seattle does help the art community.

After each round, the finished pieces are hung in an adjacent gallery where audience members can see them up-close. At the end of the event, they’re sold to the highest bidders — giving participating artists income and exposure.

During a previous event, an artist attracted the attention of the Seahawks and was later hired to paint the draft.

"That's what it should be all about," narboo said. "There's enough room for everyone's art out there.”

Carlos agreed. "There's really no loser,” he said. "Everybody here wins."

But, when all the votes were tallied there was one artist who bested this particular battle: first-time competitor Bostrom.

"As somebody who always was sort of in the audience watching events like these, I always wished I could be up there and I always dreamed about it,” she said. “I hope people feel like they can do this, too."

The next Art Battle Seattle is scheduled for October. Follow the event’s Facebook page for upcoming details about the time and location.

The pop-up is part of a larger Art Battle network, with events held around the world.

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