Art created before your eyes at The Tarlton’s Art War
By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
With no shortage of local galleries and opportunities to view art, The Tarlton Theatre and its owner/creative director, Tarl Knight, hopes to offer attendees of Art War a different way to experience art.
Art War is a live painting competition held at the theatre every few months, featuring local artists and audience participation.
“Many times in our community and in other cities, there are opportunities to see still art in a museum or in a gallery,” Knight said. “In this case, you see it unfold before your eyes.”
The competition features several rounds of speed painting, with the audience voting on a favorite painting after each one.
“You start off with a 20-minute speed round of painting,” Knight said. “We call the first four artists to the floor and there’s a 360-degree view of the painters and we have them all kind of facing inward toward each other. And then we have a big timer on the screen and it counts down.”
Once the time starts, Knight said artists are free to paint anything they come up with, meaning each event and even each round produces entirely unique art.
“There’s no prompt,” he said. “People can paint whatever comes to mind — what they’re inspired by. It can be anything from their pets to beautiful landscapes. On some occasions, we’ve had people paint the Tarlton Theatre itself. We get all kinds of inspirations and different talent levels and different artistic styles.”
In addition to being free to choose the focus of their paintings, Knight said artists are also free to choose their medium.
“There’s always something different,” he said. “We’ve had graffiti and hip hop art. People use all sorts of mediums from paint to watercolor to spray paints. We see people use chalk. Someone once used meat — a slab of meat —and then they just stuck that right onto the canvas. It’s very experimental and heavy stuff, but it’s really interesting.”
When the timer goes off, the audience is welcomed to vote via a ballot for their favorite painting, deciding which artist will move on to the final round.
After three preliminary rounds, the winners from each round compete in a final round to determine the evening’s winner, but Knight said the experience doesn’t end there.
“There’s a period at the end of the night with the music still going and people are welcome to go up and review all of the paintings from the night and place their bids and go home with any of those paintings,” he said. “Some nights we’ve had where one art collector will go home with a number of paintings — maybe half a dozen — and some nights everyone gets something.”
Proceeds from the art auction go directly back to the participating artists, fulfilling what Knight said is a goal for the event by supporting local artists.
“People love the spirit of it,” he said. “They love being able to take something home that they saw unfold, knowing that the money goes back to support the artist that they got to meet and got to see in their work. It’s a great way to make sure that there isn’t just exposure, but that there’s also a currency that provides artists with the opportunity to keep honing their craft and putting it on display and also living off of it. And that currency is money itself.”
Beyond financial support, Knight said Art War provides an opportunity for the community to show appreciation for its local artists and their work.
“We want the artists to know that our community appreciates them — the Theatre appreciates them — and we value their craft,” he said. “It’s a great night. There’s a lot of camaraderie — people watching each other’s styles and excited to see what will happen next.”
Since starting Art War in the fall of 2021, Knight said what will happen next has always been a bit up in the air, as the competition looks a little different every time it’s held and is always improving.
“We started art war in November of 2021 and we have it every three months in November, February, May and August,” he said. “Every time it just gets bigger and the art gets more experimental and wild and fun to watch. We’ve also been able to really hone the experience as far as the venue’s perspective of making sure that people know they can vote. And we’ve created drink specials at the bar that are themed to different painters and artists — those drinks reflect famous paintings or painters. We’ve implemented a number of changes that make it a lot more fun each time and we have some things up our sleeve for future Art Wars… We’re always in the process of making it a more interactive and more immersive experience.”
One thing Knight said he has no plans of changing is the accessibility of the event.
“It’s always been free,” he said. “That’s always been the constant so that everyone has the chance to come experience art.”
Knight said it’s not always easy or feasible for people to access art, and he hopes Art War can offer a starting point to be exposed to not only art, but the process behind it.
“For a lot of people in the community and in other communities — it’s not just Green Bay — it’s hard to get in on the ground floor and have access universally to physical art and to painting,” he said. “If you don’t have the money to visit a museum or you don’t have the education level to know the different galleries or be an art investor and have access that way, then a lot of people go through their day or their week unimpressed by art or unable to really appreciate it and reflect on it. It’s a big part of life, art is, and this way everyone has the opportunity to see it and even be a part of it.”
Not only is everyone welcome to attend Art War, Knight said anyone is also welcome to apply to participate.
“We welcome submissions for people to be in our next Art War on our website and on our social media,” he said. “You can apply to be a part of it and it doesn’t cost anything. We just invite them to come up and share their craft with us and get paid for their work at the end of the night. We’ve been lucky enough that we’ve had a great range of artists old and young, professionally trained and trained at home by themselves.”
To find out more about Art War and how you can participate, either as an audience member or a painter, visit thetarlton.com.