Born in Grand Rapids around 2003, Art Battle has gone on to become one of the Detroit underground arts scene's most anticipated events of the year. The war came to Motown when two longtime friends and artists, Vince Troia, 25, and Andrew Davis, 23 (both members of Russell Industrial Centerbased collective "The Cave"), collaborated to compete and then fell in love with the concept. Last year, more than 600 attendees joined 30 artists from all over the state for Detroit's inaugural battle.
"What makes it really special isn't just the spectacle of the artists at work," Troia says, "but the energy in the room coming from the crowd. The craziness builds up and eventually the whole competitive side of things gets lost in the communal shuffle." Adds Davis, "What makes it so exciting for us is that we don't even have a really good idea of what the artists are going to do. Last year, a girl was duct-taped to a wall! This year, I think people are going to focus on the details, people are going bigger and I think there might be more performance pieces."
Last year's winner, Grant Gramalski, turned in a Jackson Pollock-style painting and impressed the crowd, who ultimately chose the winner, with his uninhibited splatter of "found paint," which he mixes with chemicals to obtain a continuous morphing of the paint. In this "anything goes" competition, it's anyone's game. Last year, one girl created a dress, others did graffiti while an installation piece of Thor, complete with 3-D lightening bolts and a larger-than-life hammer, drew a ton of votes. A favorite among contestants was the Red Cross-inspired PB&J tent. To be clear, they were registered contestants. "It's impossible to predict who's going to win," Troia notes. "It's also impossible to predict the crowd," Davis adds. "We saw older couples, families and a ton of young kids last year."
This year's event features more music than last year's as part of a post-Battle dance party, a change that, according to Davis, was prompted because last year's attendees were so bummed when the night came to an end. "They were like, ‘What? We got to go home now? Damn, that sucks.' This year we're throwing a dance party so everyone can stay and hang out. The camaraderie last year was just too cool not to do
something like that."
Also different this year is sponsorship. Some artists are being sponsored by galleries and Utrecht Art Supplies is putting together a gift-basket for the third-place winner.
Wait a minute — Competition? Sponsorship? Entry fees ($60)? Cover charge ($10)? It's natural to question this event being put on in the name of art, is it not?
"The entry fee pretty much goes towards the pot for first and second place prizes," Davis says, "on top of that, we have to pay a rental fee for the space and we have to take time off work. Nobody's getting rich here; we are not businessmen at all." In comes Troia: "I suck at business and I hate having to deal with that end of this whole thing. We're artists ourselves, we're in the arts community. I would make it free if I could."
But Art Battle is well worth the admission — here's an opportunity to observe 30 live art demonstrations by some of the best and brightest underground artists (Mitch Cope, Don Kilpatrick) in the Detroit area; it isn't a common one. And you get to dance your ass off as Charles Trees, DJ Ornate and DJ Seoul from Detroit Techno Militia rock the steel wheels.
Friday, April 17, at the Russell Industrial Center, 1600 ClayAve., Detroit; myspace.com/artbattle; $10.