On August 2nd, one of the more bombastic events in the Prague art scene began its eight-month-long course – with a second round quickly approaching on September 6th. The Raw Art Wrestling competition is a showcase of talent that finds common ground between the artist and the gladiator.
Stylistically modeled after the Mexican professional wrestling style known as ‘lucha libre,’ it brings together three illustrators, referred to as ‘wrestlers,’ to compete at the Fusion Hotel bar over who can put together the best piece under a limited time and impromptu theme.
Why lucha libre?
“Because it is fun,” Vladimir Strejcek, the event’s main organizer and a prominent member of the Czech art scene, explains. “I didn’t just try to [recruit] people that are good, but also have interesting styles. And some people that responded to us surprised me. I thought I knew everyone.”
In the first round, the three wrestlers were Viktor Hoshl, nicknamed ‘Hiddeo,’ Andrej Kolencik, known as ‘Admiral,’ and Premed Ponahly. Grouped together, they were three of the more whimsical illustrators that answered Strejcek’s countrywide cattle call.
After receiving the night’s theme from the judges, ‘darkness,’ they labored away at their individual computer stations for two hours – a long time for the gazing audience that watched their work on three large screens above, but for the ‘wrestlers’ it was a suspenseful squeeze of consideration.
Making mental combat entertain
Admittedly, it’s difficult to make bouts of the mind viscerally entertaining to watch and Strejcek served as a charismatic host to drive the energy. More than that, he clearly enjoyed the revelry and occasionally gave play-by-play and elicited supercilious comments from the panel of judges.
Thus, the moment, rather than the concept, was the focus: loud and pulsating. Throughout, a high-tempo soundtrack played over the chattering crowd noise, reproducing the energy of a venue rather than the hushed din of an art gallery. As the bar slowly spun in the center of the room, attendees leaned over their drinks to maintain their view.
However, there is also clear intellectual appeal. It was engaging to play at being on the judging panel and compare art against art even as it was still cooking. What was evocative? What inspired? Was it achieving a new level with a tweak here or there?
Witnessing the creative process in action was akin to watching the ‘Evolution of Man’ walk in rapid fire and out of sequence, with each wrestler bringing his own style to both the visuals and process.
The mind’s eye made public
“This is usually something very secret,” said attendee Kateřina Oberfalzerova, who also draws. “When I’m drawing, I want to be alone to play with my imagination. It must be so different and difficult when you’re in front of everyone.”
Ponahly progressed slowly, a sketch thickening at the details. In the middle, Kolencik held to a style, but not an image. A duck head became an action pose, then became a room built cartoonishly and yet with forced perspective.
Meanwhile, Hoshl, the eventual winner, layered his picture like sediment, with colors and shapes building on each other. Some appeared, some disappeared. The barest hints of a long forsaken idea poked out occasionally from behind newer images.
Through it all, the dozens of attendees would occasionally leave their seats to crowd around the wrestlers.
“I like [Ponahly] and what he does with the theme, he goes in an interesting direction,” said one of the attendees, Matej Matouš, who is studying graphic design in Plsen. “I just wish the displays were bigger, easier to see.” Despite the fight for the view, he was certain that he will be back for the next round. “One of the artist in the next battle is a classmate of mine.”
In the end, the results weren’t exactly masterpieces given the circumstances, first drafts under the heat of bar lamps and a hundred pairs of eyes. Nonetheless, pressure and perspiration can bring out the best in artists and sometimes those fortunate ‘lucky mistakes’ can win out.
The images by the two runners up were purely comical or uninspired. Winning approval from both the judges’ panel and the audience vote, Hoshl discarded cliché attempts to show ‘darkness’ with cat’s eyes or running figures in order to go in the kind of unexpected direction that makes art intriguing.
The final product was done in the style of petroglyphs, as if on a cave wall, and showed a group of simply drawn worshipers before a group of shining, god-like creatures. Interpretation, like beauty, is up to the beholder, but the creativity within the theme is impressive given the constraints.
“I think for an amateur this can seem impressive,” Strejcek said at the close of the event. “Or they might say a five-year-old could do it. What matters to me is the smiling faces I see in the audience.”
As with the first and second round, four more ‘battles’ will be fought among artists with similar styles before the semi-finals mix varieties. In the end, a winner is crowned and receives the grand prize: an expensive Wacom tablet.