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Paints and brushes on a table at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Paint, Sweat and Beers - a 20th Golden Paintbrush is awarded by Art Battle

Art Battle marks 20 events with a typically entertaining takeover of a former department store in Stockport.

For the first time in years since the demise of its former tenants, the doors of the retail unit in Stockport vacated by Debenhams opened to the public – for one night only.

Despite being closed for several years, the building is still used as a reference point to guide people onwards into Stockport. With a certain sense of serendipity, Art Battle XX took place a week before a documentary recounting the fall of Philip Green’s Arcadia empire was aired on BBC. Art Battle Manchester is always topical.

Devised in 2013 by the (now) husband and wife team of Sophie and John Macaulay, the Art Battle concept is based around 10 artists having 30 minutes to produce art on a canvas using their preferred materials, examples of which include charcoal, acrylic paints, and even biros.

The crowd then ranks the works, with the Golden Paintbrush being awarded to the winner, followed by the works then being auctioned off. Monies are split between the artists and a local charity, which for this edition was the ARC Centre and Gallery in Stockport.

Artists competing at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Artists competing at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Ged Camera

If that sounds like watching paint dry, it's anything but. Judging by the queues forming outside – resembling those at a department store Boxing Day sales event – that tailed down towards Princes Street, the demand is there. People enjoying their kofte at Afiyet or the other restaurants at nearby Redrock, quizzically asked fellow diners about what was happening across the way.

Performers at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Performers at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Ged Camera

Once inside the ground floor of the three-floor complex (excluding dungeons, etc), we could see some of the original fixtures lit up by floor lamps that cast a haunting blue hue. People queued up for selfies next to leftover mannequins that the bailiffs didn't think worthy of pawning. You don’t experience this with online shopping.

Whether or not the sign-posted fitting rooms were still open is unclear, but old shelves were adorned with modern-day designs created specifically for Art Battle.

In between were bars and more local artists displaying their wares and skills, from caricaturists to jewellery makers.

Buzzin tote bag on a mannequin at the art market at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Buzzin tote bag on a mannequin at the art market at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Ged Camera

It wasn't last night of the sales, but the occasion involved a sprinkling of the magic dust that Art Battle has been spreading over some of the historical treasures in Manchester, from the former London Road Fire Station to Albert Hall.

Occupying the centre of the floor was a podium on which the Art Battlers performed. A set of five easels formed a circle, allowing punters plenty of space to dip in and out of each creation as it developed.

DJs are always onsite at Art Battle occasions to keep the audience aurally entertained, and hostess Hattie Pearson successfully managed the 1,000 paying customers to enable close access to the artists at work. She also did a fine job in persuading them to part with more money at the auctions.

Jay and Hammo painting a van at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Jay Sharples and Hammo painting a van at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Ged Camera

Not all the entertainment took place inside the building; outside there a separate project was being developed. Surrounded by various hot foot outlets was a van donated – or possibly loaned – for a few hours to renowned street artist Jay Sharples and colleague Hammo. The pair, along with many others, have contributed much to the colourful decor around the streets of Manchester, in particular Withington and the Northern Quarter.

With the vehicle owner’s permission, Jay and Hammo spray painted the van with an image of a knife-wielding Little Red Riding Hood terrorising the Big Bad Wolf; coming soon to a road in Stockport near you. I can’t see that van getting nicked.

The Blossoms special guests quartet featuring Nihal Joe Miles Adam at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Special guests showpiece, featuring Nihal Arthanayake, Joe Donovan, Miles Kellock, and Adam Thomas at Art Battle XX in Stockport

Ged Camera

Surprises are regularly added into an Art Battle event. Think fire breathers at a, well, fire station or, with this being a Stockport event, how about two members of local band Blossoms taking part in their own battle? Up stepped Joe Donovan and Miles Kellock to the easels, along with radio presenter Nihal Arthanayake and actor Adam Thomas, who completed the quartet. Needless to say, their auction segment raised shed-loads of money when supplemented with some future gig perks.

After the final five artists added their paint, sweat and beers to a canvas to end nearly four hours of entertainment, the overall winner was announced as a beaming, Manchester based, Jenny Leonard.

Let’s hope this initiative leads to more opportunities to revitalise the high street.

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