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Love Will Draw Us to Art

Art Battles have been raging since 2013 and the 20th event of the series is coming soon. Here's what to expect.

Anyone who utters the words ‘Your time starts now’ has the power to turn the most confident person into a shuddering wreck. But still there are some, who on hearing that phrase gets the adrenalin to kick in, are prepared to do battle. The internal embarrassment when you are sitting in an examination hall is one thing, but to expose yourself to the gaze of 1,000 people is a different level of pressure.

Sophie and John Macaulay are a couple who have been giving those brave enough the opportunity to thrive under that pressure.

Gigs, pubs, festivals; these are locations where many people have met their partners for a first date. The now-married Sophie and John went to a beer festival. Then they went to music gigs, normally the preference for John, but it took a while for John to indulge in Sophie’s passion for art. As the mutual appreciation society widened, they considered mixing the two fields as a one-off event, calling upon John’s music contacts and Sophie’s’ fellow artist friends.

Poster for the Art Battle final on 23 September 2022

Welcome to Art Battle, a place where you have 30 minutes to create a piece of work from a blank canvas. And what is the reward? A golden paintbrush. Actually, it can be a bit more than that but more information later.

Art Battle first started in Manchester in 2013 in the Northern Quarter. The word-of-mouth event saw 250 or so people pack out Twenty Twenty Two. Ten artists took part, with the crowd voting on an eventual winner. At the end of the evening, the art was auctioned off to attendees, with a minimum bid of £30.

The resulting monies were split 50:50 between the artists and local charities, including Coffee4Craig or Mustard Tree. Everyone benefitted.

A series of events followed, each at a different venue, each with their own challenges. One night, The Happy Mondays’ Bez stuck his hands in some paint and put them on a canvas, creating an image of a butterfly.

Whereas initially artists were contacted to ask if they’d like to be a part of the challenge, now there is an ever-growing list of creators waiting for their call. Would-be participants normally submit a small selection of their portfolio to Sophie and John, so that they can understand how it would fit in with the event.

The nights have evolved into mash-up of colour, creativity and challenges. DJs keep the music playing, normally from a roster led by Peter Garton, who has been involved since the first event, with the likes of Peter Hook or Dave Haslam filling the gaps.

Host Hattie Pearson introduces the artists and provides regular updates throughout the session. Onlookers can mingle with the artists as close as they want to observe the works in progress.

The event is not just a challenge for the organisers to put on, but the artists themselves may decide to push themselves outside of their comfort zones. One example is for a ‘wet’ arena artist such as oil painters to try the ‘dry’ side such as charcoal, with the tension fuelling creativity.

The duo has a fascination with Manchester’s architectural heritage, and how it can be developed or shown in a new light, albeit for one night only. So Crusader Mill behind Piccadilly rail station was used as a venue before its final conversion to living quarters, whilst diverse venues such as London Road Fire Station, Hallé St Peters, Victoria Baths and Projekts Skate Park have all featured.

Each event takes between three and six months or organise; the next is planned for 23 September 2022. As the practicalities of organising drinks licenses, contributors, safety procedures and so on began to eat into their day jobs, John and Sophie faced some difficult choices.

They say that if you find a job you like, then you don't really work. So John decided to leave his occupation in the food industry – one with a safe, regular income and pension plan, but that didn't exactly tickle his creative taste buds – to pursue Art Battle Manchester on a permanent basis. And from Art Battle Manchester, GRIT studios has also been born, but that story is for another time.

The 20th event in the series is in keeping with their policy of using unusual locations; putting the art in department store, they'll reimagine the empty vessel that housed Debenhams in Stockport. There is a suggestion that the golden paintbrush award may be supplemented with a few suitably attired mannequins that have been rescued from the empty building.

This time, the selected charity is Arc Centre Stockport, who specialise in the arts and mental health.

With 2023 bringing up 10 years since the first Art Battle, plans are being crafted for a few special events including a possible ‘Champion of Champions’ from previous winners, so watch this space…

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