The Art of War: Second Battle of the Brushes pits fellow artists in live competition
Donning a Kilgore Cavalry hat, yellow branch scarf, and aviator sunglasses, Mel Fiorentino soars above in an attack Huey as Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blares through the loudspeakers. Below, nine artists going about their business in diligence and quietude run for cover as Fiorentino unmercifully strafes the poor souls with colorful nudes and portraiture. In the grim aftermath, Fiorentino takes a deep breath: “You smell that? Nothing in the world smells like that.
“I love the smell of linseed oil in the evening. Smells like… victory.”
Hastings, Marathon, Waterloo, Gettysburg: All places that conjure up images of glorious battles that massaged the course of human history. No one is likely to toss the 8th Avenue Art Gallery into the same mix as these legendary places, but why not? On March 18, a battle of epic proportions will take place there all the same, one that will shake the course of art history in Ocala. It’s the second Battle of the Brushes and Fiorentino is back again to wield her brand of artistic thuggery that resulted in a wide margin of victory for her in 2022’s inaugural Battle.
This year, Fiorentino is Apollo Creed to the field’s Rocky Balboa. But unlike the cinematic version, Fiorentino expects stiff competition from her underdog combatants and not taking anything for granted. The artists have chosen their respective weapons and the popular Fiorentino looks to bring a gun to a knife fight the way she did last year when she painted a figure, a nude lady to be specific, in which “I got really weird with the colors and everything was really bright.”
Last year, local artist Justin Alsedek decided to convert the 8th Avenue Art Gallery into a ring of sorts. It would be an arena in which a collection of artists would square off in front of their respective blank canvases and fashion their creations in real time, a bit of “Iron Chef” meets “The Happy Painter.” Public voting for the best piece went the way of Fiorentino and Ocala’s newest artistic tradition took flight.
A year later, the event has grown into one that is able to raise money for local art nonprofits Marion Cultural Alliance and the Magnolia Art Xchange, all in the spirit of friendly competition. It’s also yet another sign of the Ocala arts community’s vertical trajectory.
“The arts have exploded in Ocala, that’s for sure,” Alsedek said. “These kinds of events help to grow the culture. Already I hear how other towns are trying to model their art culture growth around how we’re doing it because our growth has been so ridiculous in a short amount of time.”
Fiorentino leads a roster of local who’s-who artists that includes Teddy Sykes, Jordan Shapot, Aug Element, Jessi Miller, Kyle Corley, Sky Sadler and Rae Grand. In addition to these stars, the event has even attracted some out-of-town talent in Brooksville’s Jesse Kasabian and Orlando’s Christian Stanley.
“I admire (Alsedek’s) passion and his drive to do a really cool event like this,” said Kasabian, who sees a similar arts explosion taking place in his hometown. “I know where I’m at in Brooksville, in the past five years it has gotten so much more progressive in the way of art. I feel like I am actually part of the revival of arts in Brooksville or maybe just the beginning of diverse art in Brooksville.”
Stanley has taken notice of the burgeoning art scene in Ocala and sees the area as worth the trip from Orlando.
“I have a history of doing art projects in the Ocala area,” Stanley said. “I just love what Justin’s doing by bringing artists together.”
At 2 p.m., artists will be introduced then at 2:30 will take their stations in front of 4 feet-by-4 feet canvas to work. From then, they will have seven hours to complete their artwork. All the while, every spectator who comes will be given a gold coin worth one point, which can go to the artist of choice. The artist with the most points when the final bell rings will be declared the winner.
A few caveats: Spectators on hand at the end will be given a silver coin worth two points and several local art experts will serve as judges and they will have coins worth seven points each. “It’s a popularity contest to some extent,” Alsedek explained, “so this is a way to give some more weight to (art experts).”
The crux of the event is for the public to watch art created right before their eyes. During the battle, three music acts will perform and free wine and beer served. For the fundraising, merchandise will be sold and a raffle will take place in which original artwork will be the prize.
In such a format, the artist who feels most comfortable with the public watching every move and who brings a good plan stands the best chance of winning. And, of course, there is also the most creative idea executed properly.
“I’ve been doing live painting at events for years,” Fiorentino said. “A lot of people get nervous painting in front of people live.
“I think what people paint, where the composition is complex or things need to be exact, that can be tough. One of the most important things is I’ve played out every step in my head… if I get behind I just shut myself off with the headphones and ignore the crowd for a little while.”
Fiorentino knows everyone is gunning for her, so she needs to bring her best — likely better than she brought last year in her victory. She has already formulated a plan but is refusing to divulge any more information.
“I’m thinking about shifting gears a little bit. I do a lot of portrait stuff, so I was thinking of doing something like that. I might have to keep it under wraps because I don’t want anybody to get my ideas.”
Stanley brings some experience to events such as this, having participated in Ink Wars up in Columbus, Ga. There, work was done solely with big, black paint markers and only an hour given to complete the work. Also, a prompt for the work was given just before the artists began.
For the Battle of the Brushes, artists will be able to actually sketch their work beforehand, but are not allowed to have any paint on the canvas. In addition, they can paint whatever they want without having to follow a prompt.
Unlike Fiorentino, Stanley doesn’t mind tipping his hand in regard to his project.
“I use a lot of digital illustrations to springboard my projects, so I’ll do different vectors, 2D kind of geometric designs to get started then overlay dashes and dots on top of those shapes to give it some depth,” Stanley revealed. “Those dashes and dots are kind of impressionistic, like Van Gogh, somebody mentioned to me.”
Kabasian plans on incorporating more than just typical paint.
“I plan on doing all spray paint and a little bit of brushes,” Kasabian said. “Lots of bold colors; keep it simplified, and dark lines.”
In its second year, the Battle of the Brushes is still in the embryonic stage. Improvements have already been made over last year thanks to the raffle and sponsors coming on board. Also, there will be an emcee at the event — Alsedek himself, who believes the sky is the limit.
“I can see that it can grow beyond the scope of what we can do to hold it here,” Alsedek said. “At some point I want to have cash prizes for the winners.”
For now, the winner earns the championship belt, much like a champion boxer is awarded. “Artists will seek out the event and the belt might become worth more, like a golfer wants the Green Jacket (for winning The Masters tournament).”
Just as crowds gathered to witness the first Battle of Bull Run, so will the public witness the Battle of the Brushes. Beer, wine, music, artistic visual delights and talent on display will make this a much safer outing, though, while lifting the local culture another notch. It’s all part of the art explosion taking place before our very eyes in what was once a small town virtually bereft of visual arts. Now, art even takes forms described best in metaphors of war. So how’s that for progressive?
Battle of the Brushes: Round 2
2:00p.m. Artists Introduction Ceremony
2:30p.m. Painting will begin
9:30p.m. Painting stops, final votescast
By 10:00p.m. Winner announced and crowned
Live Music lineup:
2:30p.m.–5:30p.m. Left on Broadway
5:30p.m.–6:30p.m. “Rhythms for All” conducted by SeanTMusic Global