Live painting is an ancient art form that has been growing in popularity over the recent years. It is a form of improvisational performance art in which an artist completes a painting in front of an audience usually in a setting such as a concert, bar, or museum and usually accompanied by a dj or some other form of music. In contrast to traditional painting, in which painting is done in private and the final product becomes a piece of art, live painting sees the physical act of painting the artwork as the art form. In this way, painting becomes performance art as opposed to traditional visual art. Along with “living statues,” live painting is often referred to as “living art.”

Artists have been practicing live painting since even before the Renaissance. After all, back in the days before cameras, live painting was the only way to get a portrait of oneself. Therefore, a person would have to sit or pose while the artist painted the picture, giving them a front row seat to the physical act of painting and creating a piece. Not only did this debunk any myths that the painting was created by magic or some sort of higher power, but it also provided the patron with a first-hand look at the tools, techniques, strokes, and methods used.

Live painting went through a resurgence in the latter part of the 20th century. In 1976 American artist LeRoy Neiman painted a famous piece live at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Graffiti and street art increased the popularity of live painting throughout the 80s, 90s, and 00s. Australian artist Robert Gammage even pioneered the idea of audience participation by having spectators add their own parts to a piece. Today many live painting sessions incorporate the audience with each participant splattering paint on a canvas, walking with painted feet over a canvas, or marking with painted hands on a canvas. Additionally, many consider modern-day tattooing to be a form of live painting since the spectator is also the canvas.

Modern live painting has become a popular staple of concerts, charity events, gallery openings, and nightclubs, with artists often choreographing their strokes to surrounding music. In this way, live painting has become a dynamic and intriguing way to revitalize any event. In any given session the spectators know that they are part of the experience of watching a piece come into being, and with that they become part of the piece itself. For without an audience, a live painting show simply becomes an ordinary private studio painting. Live painting truly gives a new definition to the phrase “watching paint dry.”