Why you should care
Because the art of war is nothing without the art.
There’s a certain glorified genius to finding the proper mix for the unlikely match. Cameras and phones? A staple today that sounded like crazy talk not too long ago. And so it was that Melissa Wyman, fresh from a stint at the famed Djerassi Resident Artist Program, decided to combine a few of her favorite things into a single thing that is now becoming, well, a bona fide thing. A thing called Collaborative Combative Drawing, which as its name suggests, involves artists fighting each other.
“I enjoy the process of creating art where losing an element of control is part of the process,” says the 39-year-old Wyman. “This gives artists a sanctioned context for getting them out of their heads, with the added bonus of an adrenaline rush.” And the rush is a little less bare-knuckle brawling and much more Twister with an edge as teams of artists pull up in front of paper or canvas, brushes and pens at the ready, and, at Wyman’s signal, attempt to create art while attacking others who are also trying to create art.
Yes. Just about that cool.
Wyman was born into a hippie commune in Tennessee called “The Farm” whose essential tenets had everything to do with nonviolence, communal living and natural childbirth, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that ending up trying to strangle folks over artwork seems a skosh incongruent. But the 5-foot-7, 135-pound Wyman, a student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu since 1999, doesn’t think so; between her, her husband and two jiu-jitsu-playing daughters, she generally digs on the admixture from the vantage point of both the body and the mind. “I’d say the experience is more about bringing the physicality to the artistic realm than the other way around,” says Wyman, whose appreciation of artists like Mark Bradford, Tania Bruguera and Michael Namkung reflects her penchant for the somatic.
Wyman’s contention is one semi-scoffed at by artist and BJJ player Eddie Lagapa, whose claim that both are so hard to do, “mixing them up seems to guarantee not getting better at either.” Wyman’s answer to skeptics — after running Combatives at art galleries, universities and conferences around the world — is that the connection between good art and good fighting is clearly laid out. “Many people haven’t experienced the joys and benefits of wrestling or grappling or being physical with each other in a way that is nonviolent and nonsexual since they were kids,” she says from her home in Palo Alto, California. Besides which, the goal isn’t about defacing the other person’s drawing, “it’s about completing your own drawing without letting the other person complete theirs.”
Post-match, the paint-drenched participants survey not so much the damage they’ve wreaked as what they’ve created. Newly mindful of various permutations of power and the overcoming of obstacles and given her tendency to focus on the different qualities of drawing mediums — for example, charcoal versus ink — Wyman hopes that “when we stand back and look at the drawings afterward, we can understand a bit about what took place.”