A Fight Club-Style Art Battle Has Been Unleashed On LA

Artists battle at Secret Walls. (Courtesy Secret Walls)

A one-on-one wall-size art tournament is officially underway, with battles in a 16-person bracket taking place monthly until it all culminates with the finals this October.

It's called Secret Walls, and it takes place at their L.A. venue/battle arena, START Los Angeles in West Adams. The team behind it says it's like an art version of Fight Club meets The Warriors, with each side making art on a giant white wall that's then evaluated by judges and cheers of the crowd using a decibel meter.

Artists get 90 minutes on the clock to create their masterpieces, and they're only allowed to use black markers or acrylic paint — no color, and no white paint to cover up any mistakes.

"Once you throw the paint on the wall, if you make a mistake, you have to deal with it and turn it into something beautiful," Secret Walls founder Terry Guy told us.

The artists also aren't allowed to use any reference materials, forcing the artists to create something on the spot. Styles in the past have ranged from graffiti to fine art, to abstract, to comic book and character illustration.

Thirty artists, whittled from 300 applicants, competed this past weekend for 10 spots in the tournament bracket. They'll competing alongside six "all-star" artists that include bigger names and artists who Secret Walls has worked with in the past. Battles will be held at their L.A. venue every month through the finals.

The first Secret Walls event debuted in London just over 12 years ago under the name "Secret Wars," named in homage to a classic Marvel comic book series. Guy has the original 12-issue series framed and hanging in the Secret Walls studio.

"In our head, all of the artists were superheroes, bringing their own powers to the stage," Guy said.

Guy and the other organizers felt that street artists weren't getting the exposure they deserved.

"Back then, live art events weren't really a thing — street art wasn't really a big thing either," Guy said. "Banksy hadn't really exploded at that point yet. So it was very underground."

It was supposed to be a one-off party, but they filled the room, and people demanded more. They moved from London to a U.K. tour, then Europe, and now hold events all over the world.

An artist bearing the marks of battle at Secret Walls. (Courtesy Secret Walls)

When they were holding major events in the U.S., it was suggested they miiiiight want to change their name to avoid a lawsuit.

"We were doing this private party in New York for a bunch of celebrities, and NBA stars, and things, and someone came up to us from Marvel," Guy said. "And he said that, 'Guys, I love the concept, I'm a massive fan, I think it's awesome — but I don't know if my bosses are going to be too happy when they see you promoting [#SecretWars]."

People were using the hashtag more for their shows than the actual comics, and with Disney buying Marvel, they decided to make the change before they were forced to.

A DJ at work during a Secret Walls event. (Courtesy Secret Walls)

Secret Walls relocated its headquarters to Los Angeles three years ago, setting up shop in the Harvard Heights area (just south of Koreatown).

They've done shows in about 100 cities and 50 countries, with between 60-80 shows a year worldwide, according to Guy. The majority are now in the U.S., with L.A. getting 10 to 15 shows over the course of 2019.

The big dream: they'd love to be an Olympic sport. While it may sound far-fetched, Guy noted recent articles about video gaming esports being under consideration for the Olympics, as the Olympics tries to maintain its relevance.

"Why can't an artist with the skills to produce a large mural be an athlete as well?" Guy asked.

Their next event is April 6, featuring the first ROund 1 battles. You can watch for more info on upcoming Secret Walls events on their social media. And if you think you have what it takes to be one of the artistic competitors, they're always taking applications online.

This story has been updated.