Oh brother, where’s the art?
The annual Celebrity Battle of the Brushes rolled off smoothly again last Friday at the Burlington Memorial Auditorium, and a sell-out dinner crowd partied and dined as they watched five local legends attempt to reproduce paintings by famous artists, all to raise money for the arts center of Burlington.
“We’re only able to do this because of our incredible board of directors, my tireless hardworking staff, our army of volunteers and this community who continue to make ‘art’ pop up in Burlington,” said ACB Director Elizabeth Pappas the event on November 18th.
What it was
This year’s theme, Pop Art, was announced to the artists just minutes before the painting began, and each artist-coach team chose a well-known painting to emulate. Each celebrity was painted on a 20×24 inch canvas on stage in front of a live audience.
The food was good and plentiful — a Bent River/Broadway collaboration consisted of shredded pork street tacos with pico de gallo, cilantro, and lime crema; Bratwurst sliders with cabbage and IPA mustard; Polish sausage skewers with peppers and onions, served with IPA mustard and buffalo or Asian chicken wings.
All in attendance had access to a full bar in the lobby staffed by the invincible David Kroll, Associate Director of Burlington Riverfront Entertainment.
The teams consisted of Alec Cornick with trainer Jeri Sparks, Jason Hutcheson led by David Garrison, Kim Staub coached by Janet Hachmeister, Mike McCoy coached by his granddaughter Norah Bell, and Mike Ripple himself with expert Help his worst critic was Jessica Kirby.
And that’s the order in which they’ve auctioned off their art efforts.
The evening began with music by Eric Pettit Lion; The band provided excellent artist-watching background music with near-perfect sound reinforcement, smooth vocals and some very tasty steel guitars from Chris Robbins.
Pappas came out to introduce host KC Fleming and it was time to usher the art teams onto the stage.
McCoy came dressed as a gangster, wearing pinstripes, a white hat and a red tie. “The Gangster” was his nickname.
Ripple dubbed himself “Royale with Cheese” in a black wig and looked a bit like John Travolta with a nasty hangover.
Cornick as a “flip-flop” paraded his slider strings to the Blue Swede “ooga-chukka” version of the BJ Thomas hit “Hooked on a Feeling”.
Staub’s team was “Iowa vs Illinois” with Staub in the Hawkeye sweater and coach Hachmeister in Illini colors.
Jason Hutcheson was dressed as a Ringling ringmaster, befitting his slogan ‘The Great Showman’, with David Garrison trapped as the lion tamer from a Warhol nightmare.
And the painting began. Artists squinted and twisted and drank wine and dabbed and did handicrafts. The audience celebrated.
Artwork hung on the stage including Andy Warhol’s psychedelic Marilyn Monroe, a shaking picture of Keith Haring and a cartoon by an artist unknown to the Burlington mob.
Fleming auctioned off a blindfold that Great River Heath Foundation executive director Jason Hutcheson had to wear for five minutes while painting.
“It’s terrible, it’s terrible. I’m not an artist,” Ripple murmured as he stared frantically at his efforts to reproduce the same painting Cornick conjured up with ease.
Fleming received $100 from a patron who wanted Ripple’s pro Jessica Kirby McCoy to assist for five minutes. Then former ACB director Tammy McCoy paid $250 for her friend Vivian Anderson to paint with her favorite artist team, Dust and Hachmeister.
“I studied graphic design,” Anderson said. “I had no idea what she was drawing, then she showed me a picture on her phone.”
The Hawk Eye was not privy to this image.
McCoy’s trainer, granddaughter Norah Bell, smiled when someone asked her about Grandpa’s odds of winning his rendition of Andy Warhol’s classic Marilyn Monroe.
“He has a small chance here,” Bell said, laughing. “Hopefully he’ll be third. I’m aiming for third.”
As real estate expert Kim Staub worked on her take on whatever it was, an observer asked her how painting in front of a crowd compared to selling houses.
“It’s a lot harder because I don’t know what I’m doing here, and at least I know what I’m doing when I’m selling a house,” she said with a lopsided laugh.
A native of Malaysia, Dao Lim, an engineer with the Winegard Company, moved to Burlington a few years ago. Someone asked Lim if there was such a thing as the Celeb Battle in Malaysia.
“No, that’s very unique. I have never seen an event like this before. Everything is very casual,” he said, before admitting he had a favorite artist on stage.
“I think Jason is secretly an artist,” Lim said with a chuckle.
Immediately prior to the auction, last year’s winner, Dr. Michael AbouAssaly, his practiced family opinion.
“Jason’s art is spot on, but I think he finished a little early,” AbouAssaly said, tongue sticking out his cheek significantly. “He needs to go back, re-examine, do some touch-ups.”
AbouAssaly said whoever bought Hutcheson’s painting might want to get him to show up later and do a little renovation.
“It just needs a little touching up, but overall it’s a good effort,” he said with a scholarly scowl.
Someone asked the good doctor to criticize McCoy, the hospital’s new CEO.
“It’s apples to pears, really a whole different art style,” said AbouAssaly. “Overall it’s well done… before that he was a fellow doctor but now he’s my boss so I have to say I like his painting the most.”
AbouAssaly said he admired Hutcheson’s confidence.
“I was up there like I was shaking, and you’re like, ‘OK, that’s it; drop that brush,’” he said to Hutcheson.
“But there’s nothing else you can do about it!” Hutcheson disagreed. “Every time I touched it, I screwed it up. So we just have to call it good.”
The two men stood in the center of the auditorium, and as they looked up at Hutcheson’s painting on stage, the artist suggested it would be better if people viewed it from that perspective.
“If you get too close, we’ve got some nose problems and some chin problems,” Hutcheson said. “But from a distance, when people are standing in front of it, it doesn’t look that bad.”
“It looks perfect from 200 feet,” agreed AbouAssaly.
The painting stopped after two hours and the artists started to auction their masterpieces. Ripple handed out awards including Bees Bucks and his Psycho Travolta wig, then told the audience his painting was a donut.
“It’s not just any athlete’s barbell weights,” he said.
At the end of the auction, the Cornick-Sparks team took home the bacon with the highest bid: $5,100.
“It’s always a fun event to attend; it was more fun to attend,” Cornick later said. “I had a great time. More importantly, it was a fantastic night for the Art Center. Congratulations to them on making this event such a success.”
Hutcheson-Garrison was second with $3,400, Staub-Hachmeister was third with $3,000, McCoy-Bell followed with $2,000, and Ripple-Kirby was last – but still raised money for the Art Center with a bid from a whopping 1000 dollars.
Oddly enough, only Ripple’s masterpiece is on display at the Art Center this week, as the other four buyers fled with their goodies.
“They took all their pictures! I only have the Ripple painting!” Pappas lamented.
McCoy called the event a great crowd for a great cause.
“I had so much fun painting under my granddaughter’s tutelage for the first time,” he said, before thanking poppas and BRE honchos Kroll and general manager Mike O’Neil. “Elizabeth, Mike, David and their staff did a great job and I appreciated the opportunity to embarrass myself while having a lot of fun.”
Pappas said she and her staff are “completely blown away by the overwhelming support from this amazing community.”
“The celebrities and artists brought their A games and banged them out of the park,” Pappas said.