Live art battles bridge gap between artist, observer

IMG 0097 E copyIf you’re looking for something fun to do in the Calgary arts scene, you may just want to stumble into a little place called the Gorilla House. Located on the corner of 14th Street and 15th Avenue in the Southwest, it’s a venue that bridges the gap between the artist and the observer.

Inside you will find that it’s not just your typical art gallery, it’s also a studio where you can watch the artists create a masterpiece right before your eyes.

Rich Theroux, owner of Gorilla House, said he always thought that a gallery and a studio should be combined together as one. That way, he said, the public can see the art being created and therefore have a stronger connection to the artwork itself.

Jessica Szabo, an artist, teacher, and regular at Gorilla House said it’s an amazing place because there’s no judging of each other’s work.

“Everyone’s allowed. There are so many different groups of people that come together. It’s not just artists; it’s people who walk in off the street,” Szabo said.

IMG 0061Artist Desere Pressey paints a portrait in her studio at Gorilla Arts for one of the live art battles.

Photo by Meagan Gill
The Gorilla House opened in mid-July and has become quite a hit among both artists and non-artists.

Every Wednesday night they have “live art battles” in which a “wheel of doom” is spun and three random themes are chosen. Using these themes, each competing artist creates a work of art in just two hours.

More than 100 people show up to these battles on any given night, about 40 of which are artists who compete in the battles, Theroux said. After the two-hour battle, artists bring their pieces up to the front where they are auctioned off to the public or to other artists. The artists decide what price they want to start the bidding at and the rest is up to the crowd.

Pieces can be sold anywhere from $10 to $300. The artists each receive 50 per cent from their sales prices and the rest goes to the gallery.

The public has the unique opportunity to walk around and talk to the artists as they create their pieces. They get to see the artists go from blank canvases to works of art.

IMG 0097 ERich Theroux, the owner of Gorilla House, works on his piece for one of the live art battles. One of the themes in this battle was schoolyard bullies.

Photo by Meagan Gill
During this time, the competing artists are scattered all over the place. They are at the front of the studio, at the back, they’re sitting on the floor or working at an easel, and some venture downstairs to the basement to get their creative juices flowing.

“Here we get to come and paint and we get to interact with the viewers and we get to watch them be amazed by what we’ve done,” Theroux said. “The viewers come in and just indulge in the art-making.”

The name of the space, which seems to have effectively connected with the art-going audience, came to Theroux after he and his son had just gotten matching gorilla costumes.

“About 90 per cent of the people who just wondered in, did so because they wanted to know why it was called Gorilla House,” Theroux said.

Artist Desere Pressey said the atmosphere of Gorilla House is what made her want to become a part of the battles.

“When I walked in the door, it was just such an amazing environment, and so welcoming,” Pressey said. “It’s like the land of the misfits. It’s just like there was no snobbery or distance between the art and the observer and I just thought that was so beautiful.”

Gina Martino and her friends are a part of an arts and cultures group. They’re always looking for different events that they can go to that are preferably free of charge. So when they heard about the art battles, just through word of mouth, they decided to go check it out.

“It seemed like an interesting concept,” Martino said. “I think the idea of auctioning the work off is great for the artists.”

Although they are called “battles,” the atmosphere doesn’t seem at all competitive. On one recent night, it was more down-to-earth and friendly, with artists connecting with one another and also with members of the public.

“It’s really great for people who are new to the city and don’t know a lot of people. It’s such a strange atmosphere where everybody welcomes everybody,” Theroux said.

Gorilla House Live Art Battles happen every Wednesday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Gorilla House is located at 1503 15th Ave. S.W.

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