This is not the typical art show. Unless you expect artists to get physical.
Because at Super Art Fight, that's what you'll see: artists battling it out for visual superiority, on the fly, in front of a live audience.
No wonder it calls itself the "greatest live art competition in the known universe." And on Saturday, Super Art Fight will hit a milestone — its 100th performance — at the Ottobar, the place where it debuted in 2008.
Everything is created on the spot, with artists competing side-by-side to make the most outrageous pieces of art they can. While the competitors are furiously drawing on a 12-by-6-foot canvas, co-hosts Ross Nover and Marty Day are avidly giving a play-by-play, explaining the scene while entertaining the audience with vivid story lines that are also made up as they go.
There is a twist, however. Of course there is.
Artists are allowed, and encouraged, to "attack" their opponent's art, either by finalizing their opponent's unfinished piece or completely making it into their own drawing. Often artists will begin a piece on the top half of the canvas and then switch with their opponent, finishing the bottom half of their opponent's drawing or completely revamping the scene, all with the purpose to be as creative as possible.
It's all done quickly — 25 minutes per bout. Sometimes it's two teams of artists. And sometimes it's tag matches, in what Day, SAF's co-founder, calls "very much in the over-the-top sort of pro-wresting style." Welcome home, guys.
"Because it's our 100th show, we've been calling it a homecoming for us since we've been all over the country between the last show and now," said Day.
SAF began completely by accident at an Iron Artist event at Katuscon, a Japanese animation convention that was held in Washington in February 2008. The idea of Iron Artist is similar to culinary competition TV show "Iron Chef": Artists were encouraged to create as many drawings relating to a set theme as they could within an hour. Two artists, Nick DiFabbio and Jamie Noguchi, were scheduled to perform, and 10 minutes into the performance the AV equipment stopped working.
DiFabbio and Noguchi quickly improvised, attacking each other's art, taking crowd suggestions on what to draw, doing anything and everything to keep the audience's attention.
"It was a spur-of-the-moment thing," said SAF co-founder Noguchi, 36, of Rockville. "We kept grabbing extra sheets of paper to make our pieces larger and the crowd was eating it up. I forgot who ran over to whose piece, but it just seemed like the thing to do in the moment. The crowd went nuts so we kept going. It was one of those happy accidents."
From there the idea of having an art fight in front of a live event was born. And people have been clamoring to join the action.
The original roster was formed from people the creators knew in the arts industry, from comic artists, tattoo artists, or designers. Over the years the roster has grown to 15 members as more people become involved, with competitors even adopting character roles and nicknames while on stage.
"The characters and nicknames are a mix — some we help the artists with developing, sometimes they come at us with an idea for a fully fleshed persona," said Day. "It's one of those elements that has grown over the years — one artist takes a nickname, another develops a costume, and it just turns into this fun, friendly rivalry internally," said Day.
Saturday's 100th show will have four matches: one-on-one, tag team (two members on each team), as well as a special edition queen and king homecoming battle. The Super Art Fight championship will feature current champion Kelsey Wailes (nickname: "Killer") versus Brandon J. Carr (nickname: "nicest man in art fight"). Carr is looking to win his second SAF championship after winning the SAF semifinals last November.
"Being champion was an amazing experience," said Carr, 34, of Fredericksburg, Va. "It's always great to win and have the referee hold your hand up high at the end of a competition, but to be able to then wear the fancy-schmancy title belt is incredible. I'm looking forward to wearing that beautiful belt again."
But it may not be that easy. Having the audience pick the winner allows for a very close show, and typically there is no clear-cut winner until the very end. "Last year I won by half a decibel," said Wailes, a 23-year-old student from Taneytown. "One fight last year, my finishing move was to make the entire board a periodic table of elements, complete with several blocks of elements."
Though not every show has a theme, when it does it makes the drawing possibilities for the competition endless.
Each artist is given a starting theme for the first five minutes, and is allowed to draw whatever they want. From there on it gets tricky, as each five minutes the artist is thrown another theme in which they must incorporate into their current drawing.
The four remaining themes are decided by a computer program called the "wheel of death," which is full of themes audience members have suggested on the SAF website. When you hear the crowd chant "wheel of death" to indicate a new theme, it's going to get interesting.
Producers typically pick starting themes based on timely events, such as holidays, though the audience is free to suggest anything and everything for the last 20 minutes. Past themes to come out of the "wheel of death" include cute animals on fire, Muppet burlesque, rejected superheroes, and things found in the back of the fridge.
Artists have one chance to reject a theme, spinning the wheel of death again.
"I like when I get a topic I don't know," Wailes said. They always end up funnier and more ridiculous. Once I got Galactus [from Marvel Comics] as a topic, and I didn't remember what his fancy headgear looked like, so I just drew a guy with a paper bag on his head. It wasn't what the audience was expecting, but Marty and Ross went with this whole storyline of a young embarrassed Galactus going through some awkward years in his life and everyone went with it and really enjoyed it."
While the roster and fan base continue to grow, so does the competition.
"I have three favorite things about the competition," said Carr. "I love my competitors because the whole group is knuckleheads and goofballs and we have such a good time behind the scenes as well on stage. I love the forced creativity and having to make great art and entertainment in the moment. It's a huge rush.
"And, most importantly, I love the crowds. There's nothing more energizing than hundreds of people yelling at you or cheering you on."
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