Battle of the Brushes

A Hit of an Art Show

Elise Arsenault | Reporter 

What do you get when you cross eleven easels, loaded palates, a stopwatch and an imaginative group of artists? The answer is one gem of an art show: Re-create’s Battle of the Brushes.

Re-create is a Shalem Mental Health Network program for youth aged 16-25 years, located at Art Forms on James St. North, downtown Hamilton. Their open arts studio invites street-involved youth to try their hand at painting, poetry, performance art, photography and other multimedia projects. Re-create volunteers are most often local students, established artists and members of the wider arts community.

Rachael Bosma 

Rachael Bosma 

 Next year, Re-create will see the end of its World Vision Canadian Programs funding, and thus become dependent on donations to keep their creative projects running. “50 Donors in 50 Days” is their current fundraising initiative, hoping to recruit 50 donors committed to monthly donations by November 14th.

The Battle of the Bushes event on September 25th marked the launch of this campaign and saw over a hundred people in attendance. The breakdown of the event was this: eleven competing artists had blank canvases, art supplies of their choosing and 30 minutes to finish a painting of any style. When the time ran out, each audience member dropped a ticket into the slot box of the artist whose painting they liked the most. Once the tickets were tallied, the top six artists moved on to the second round. After a coffee break, they were given another canvas and half an hour to paint a final work. Audience members voted again with a second ticket, and the top three artists became the first, second and third place winners awarded makeshift, hand painted trophies.

Nina Schuurman

Nina Schuurman

 Live musicians performing that evening included Esther Phua and Nimal Agalawatte, and nourishing the crowd and contestants were home-made pastries. All seventeen paintings went up for sale in a silent auction after the competition with a portion of the funds going to Re-create, in addition to the pay-what-you-can admission fee.

The artists registered for the competition came from Sheridan College, McMaster University, the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts, Ontario College of Art & Design, their own art tours, and — wait for it — Redeemer University College! Yes, Redeemer’s own Nina Schuurman, Rachael Bosma and Professor Phil Irish were among the contestants that evening, with Rachael winning the 2nd place prize, and Prof. Irish coming in first place. In third place was Hamilton native pen and ink illustrator Hannah Essex, whose paintings featured alien-like creatures.

Phil Irish

Phil Irish

 The concept and atmosphere of the event was unlike anything I’d experienced before. There was a natural anticipation that came with blank canvases, readied brushes and a stopwatch — the movement of nimble hands, boundless brains and tunnel vision. There was wonder in witnessing the growth of an idea as strokes thickened and colours bled. Moreover, artists became vulnerable as they invited the audience into a creative process that is usually kept private.

 It was remarkable to see eleven previously naked easels become thrones to distinct works of art. The competition’s freedom made for a melding of styles — landscapes, creatures, faces, striking colour and ambitious shapes. The auction sheets filled with bids after the competition, so the majority of the paintings went home with attendees (including me).

Phil Irish's second-round painting

Phil Irish's second-round painting

The whole of the event — the original work of visual artists, the mellow tunes of live musicians and the homey spread of drinks and dessert — was rich in thought and creativity, with an intimacy that gripped its audience.

 Another arts showcase worth mentioning is that of nine Redeemer students, whose paintings are currently installed at Jubilee Christian Reformed Church in St. Catherine’s for viewing until the end of November. The exhibition, entitled “The Temple Project,” is a set of large oil-paintings reflecting on the word “temple.” The artists will be at the church on November 25th to speak about the incorporation of this theme in their pieces. In addition, stay tuned for Prof. Irish’s art show, “b Contemporary,” to open in the month of December.

Hannah Essex's second-round painting

Hannah Essex's second-round painting

Art as a battle, a hobby, an outlet, a challenge… it’s all valid. Call it a cultural mandate, call it foolishness, but its what we do — no matter our trade, and what we are, no matter our doubt. There are books, courses and whole degree programs that can better justify it than I can, but what I do know is this: art makes people think, and art makes people feel. It draws to the surface what little else can, so it’s forever worth seeing, questioning and making.

Rachael Bosma's first-round painting 

Rachael Bosma's first-round painting 

 Additional pictures from Battle of the Brushes, artist info, and open studio hours can be found on Re-create’s Facebook page, as well as at recreatestudio.tumblr.com.

From left to right: Meghan Schuurman, Phil Irish, Rachael Bosma, and Hannah Essex

From left to right: Meghan Schuurman, Phil Irish, Rachael Bosma, and Hannah Essex