Tag Archives: Secret Wars

Art history’s Secret Wars

Secret Wars is a real event where two street artists battle it out for 90 minutes, with black marker pens and paint, with musical accompaniment from a DJ in front of a live audience to create the best piece of art.

What if historic artists had competed in their own Secret Wars?

Leonardo da Vinci vs Michelangelo Buonarroti

Accompanied by lute players the two Renaissance artists battle it out in black ink. Although Leonardo is the better draftsman he is lazy and easily distracted, joining in with the lute players at one point. Michelangelo, who is 23 years younger than Leonardo doesn’t suffer from either faults, so it might have been a close contest. Then I let my imagination go wild with the idea in full colour tie-breaker. After a quick start where Leonardo covers his whole wall in a rough sienna brown wash while Michelangelo was still lightly sketching in his design. Then Leonardo’s experimental aerosol pump brakes down. Leonardo tries to fix his pump, sketched in a few details in pen, then gave up and left. Leonardo was notorious for not finishing work and employing experimental techniques (although not the use of an aerosol spray). Michelangelo quickly filled the colours and won the acclaim of the crowds even though his woman looked like a man with breast implants. No contest, Michelangelo by default.

Other battles are more difficult to determine. Although Michelangelo is a fast painter capable of painting a face faster than plaster can dry, something he had to do many times when painting frescos, he was a lot slower than El Greco with his speedy style that elongates everything. Who do you think would win in a painting battle: Picasso vs Matisse? Warhol vs Lichtenstein? Gauguin vs Van Gogh?

If there were secret wars in the past then art history might have been very different: John Martin might be a more familiar name in 19th century British painting such was his popularity with the public for apocalyptic images. John Martin was so popular that 5,000 people paid to see his 1821 painting “Balthazars Feast”; the first blockbuster exhibition.

There was the ancient and legendary secret war, reported by Pliny the Elder, between two artists in ancient Greece: Zeuxies and his contemporary Parrhasius. Both paintings were completed in secret and covered with curtains. Zeusies uncovered his painting of grapes so realistic that birds pecked at them. Triumphantly Zeusies then asked Parrhasius to remove the curtain from his painting only to be told that it was only a painting of a curtain. Zeusius conceded defeat.

So why haven’t artist’s competitions, like Secret Wars, featured more in the history of art? There have been battles for commissions, art prizes and positions in arts academies of various countries but these have not been democratic contests like Secret Wars. Those at the top of the hierarchy have traditionally awarded excellence in art.


Sweet Streets – Week 1

This week at the Sweet Streets festival of urban and street art there was the exhibition opening at Brunswick Street Gallery. My mind was on preparations for the Thursday film night for most of the week. Organizing the film night has been my public bit of the festival, aside from all the secretarial duties and other little things. (My interest in the Sweet Streets festival has been stated.) I have only heard about the workshops and the live spraying events going on during the festival.

On Wednesday at 1000 Pound Bend a large temporary wall was being undercoated in preparations were being made for Secret Wars.  Secret Wars, for those who don’t know, is two street artists covering several square metres of black wall in competition with each other and in front of a paying audience. It was not officially part of the Sweet Streets festival but 1000 Pound Bend had booked it in for Wednesday night anyway.

Bandos Earthling at Brunswick Street Gallery

Wednesday night was also the opening of Sweet Streets exhibition on the top floor of Brunswick Street Gallery. It was part of their “Urban Art” series of exhibitions (see my review of previous exhibition in the series). Although Tessa Yee curated both the Sweets Streets exhibitions at 1000 Pound Bend and Brunswick Street Gallery the exhibitions are a distinctly different. Under the broader category of “urban art” this exhibition has more illustration, comic book, photography and stencil art. It is a broad category that includes everything from Heesco’s fantasy illustrations to Debs aerosol paintings. But the street was not far away, even in, Jo Waite’s paintings of four panel comic strips that showed a vision of Melbourne with Spanish instead of English graffiti in the background. Bandos Earthling made an appearance in costume, carrying a large blank speech bubble made of cardboard and posing for photographs (I’m meant to catch up with him sometime during the festival). There were also some small Ben Howe’s stencils at the foot of the stairs at Brunswick Street Gallery. Last year Howe was highly commended emerging artist in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition.

Besides my own biased view you can read what other bloggers wrote about Sweet Streets. James Donald writes a long thoughtful researched review of the Award exhibition and The Earth Died Screaming has some bad iphone photos of the Award exhibition opening. Images to Live By wrote about Dscreet’s film “Dots” at the festival’s Thursday Film night. And Invurt wrote about Sweet Streets@BSG & Secret Wars.

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