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15 August 2016
By Lee Walton
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Charcoal Chess Open Tournament, 2015

Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto Art Centre, Toronto, CA


The Charcoal Chess Open Tournament was an event that took place at the University of Toronto as part of the exhibition This Area is Under 23 Hour Video and Audio Surveillance.


For this exhibition, I invited the University of Toronto’s Hart House Chess Club to an official chess tournament with a twist. All games would happen on paper through drawing, erasing, and redrawing the pieces.


The tournament brought numerous members of Toronto’s chess and art community together in a mash-up of 2 different cultural activities that lasted over 6 hours. A winner was finally determined well after midnight.


The acts of drawing became necessary not as a means to produce a work of art, but as a method to keep track of the chess pieces. Players would often analyze drawings for 20 minutes or more before deciding on a move and redrawing the pieces. This calculated approach to creating a drawing ran counter to the expressive, spontaneous mark making often celebrated in art. Ironically, the repetitive drawing, redrawing, erasing, smudging, accidents, and more led to abstract drawings. These drawings would be even more abstract for a viewer that did not understand the game of chess, just as the language of abstract art is often not accessible to those who do not understand the game of art.


I found it intriguing that untrained artists, in this case chess players, produced an aesthetic imbued with many of the mark making qualities of masters like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cy Twombly without the intention of actually making art.

The Charcoal Chess Open: Lee Walton with the Hart House Chess Club

Charcoal Chess Tournament: Minnesota Chess Club

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