The brush is mightier than the sword: quick hands, minds dominate the war at ArtAttack

Some artists prepare for their craft by throwing on a smock and grabbing a painting palette. Others strip.

At Wednesday night’s ArtAttack, a live painting competition at the Rex Theater on East Carson Street, artist Jake Steele performed the only way he thought was appropriate for the event — in his underwear.

“Doing this, you couldn’t just sit there and tediously work away your thing. You had to be entertaining,” Steele, a 24-year-old pop-surrealism artist from Monongahela Valley, said.

Even without Steele’s near-naked performance, the innovative art experience captivated the crowd of about 100 people at the Rex. The inaugural event featured 12 local artists competing in three rounds of competitive art-making, with 30 minutes to compose an original painting in front of a live audience. After each round ended, the event’s organizer, Ed Lightcap,hung the artists’ works on a nearby wall, where spectators voted on their favorite pieces. The next ArtAttack is set for June 17, which will be part of a series of several more battles featuring different competitors. The winners of each ArtAttack are tentatively scheduled to compete against each other in a final tournament later this year.

Aside from the lineup of artists, the event featured local comedian Stoph Edison as the emcee and live music throughout. DJ Keeb$, co-founder and resident DJ for the Pittsburgh-based LAZERCRUNK, played during each round, blending electronic melodies with hip-hop samples from popular artists such as Kanye West. Indie rock band The Wire Riots performed after the first round, inspiring a few audience members to breakdance to their post-punk setlist. Rap group Fortified PhonetX took the stage after round two, mixing up the lineup with an old-school ‘90s hip-hop sound.

Artists Kendrick DeWayne and Alisa Jacobson won rounds one and two, with Casey Worthing and James Bristol finishing second respectively in the same rounds. All four competitors advanced to round three, where Worthing won the final battle, with DeWayne as the runner-up. At the end of the night’s auction, Worthing’s winning piece sold for $150, and three other pieces sold for over $100.

The artists’ work was eclectic to say the least. Their paintings represented both modern artwork and historic art movements, from Japanese anime and comic book art, to impressionism and naturalism. Worthing’s first-place work portrayed a one-eyed octopus projectile vomiting, and Dewayne’s second-place piece depicted a serene-looking park in the foreground, with blurry skyscrapers in the background.

Lightcap, who saw online videos of live painting matches in Canada, said the competition works well in Pittsburgh’s emerging arts scene, which has been on the rise for the last decade.

Although he didn’t have any event-planning experience before ArtAttack, Lightcap wanted to give the city an opportunity to see its artists’ creative processes in person.

“When you go to a gallery crawl, you get to see the final piece, you get to talk to the artist, you get to ask them questions about why they did it, how they came up with that, but [ArtAttack] actually lets you see them go from start to finish,” he said. “You’re gonna get to see how they work, how they work under pressure, just, you know, everything about the process.”

Lightcap added that people can have fun watching the event, and the artists looked like they enjoyed it, too.

In the second round, acrylic painter and musician James Bristol danced with — and even kissed — Amanda Pagniello, an up-and-coming artist and fire dancer who was a last-minute addition to the competition. After he finished his composition, which was an interpretation of Pagniello painting her picture, he had about 15 minutes left until the end of the round. With time to spare, he drew on the back of Pagniello’s dress as she sipped beer and rushed to finish her work.

For Bristol, the social element of ArtAttack motivated him to participate in the event.

“Being an artist in general is kind of introspective, but coming to events like this is really, really thrilling to me because I can kind of come out of that, do my craft, but also be in like a social environment,” he said.  “I hope to see more of this, for sure.”

Pagniello also welcomed the interactive nature of the event, both with other artists and the audience.

“I love producing stuff. I love the reactionary things I get from people who look at it and are inspired,” she said. “And they can come up to me and say ‘Oh, this made me think this,’ or ‘This made me believe this.’ That’s really nice to see.”

In his jokes throughout the night, Edison covered everything from sex to Keanu Reeves movies. Given the time constraints, he said that he had low expectations for the quality of the paintings.  However, he was surprised by the outcome and is optimistic about the next event.

“I was actually pretty surprised to see this many people turn out for this. It’s really amazing. Nice participation, great artists. Expectation-wise, it exceeded mine by a mile,” he said. “Hopefully the next couple [events] retain and get even better than what we have going now.”

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