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Two Artists Turn Their Friendly Rivalry Into a Competitive Portraiture Series

“I took round one,” says Bradford J. Salamon. “I was on my game. But Bill definitely took round two. I like what he did with my glasses.”

William Wray, for his part, politely defers to Salamon on both sessions. “Portraiture is what Brad does!” he says. “It really is his specialty. And it’s so incredibly hard to get teeth right.”

Friends for years, the two men have had a close relationship in life and in the studio, often showing together by their own and by curators' choice, as each in his way pursues an edgier yet perennially technique-driven mode of life-painting. Each describes a healthy competitive spirit of mutual respect and professional admiration, which like so many friendships between artists is super supportive — until it isn’t.

In 2013 Wray and Salamon’s studio visits and cocktail hours resulted in them doing each other’s portraits, simultaneously, for the first of what would be many times. But it wasn’t until 2015 that friend and art-world documentarian Eric Minh Swenson decided to film the process, cage-match style. Paint Fight was a 4-minute film showing the two men painting each other simultaneously in a live head-to-head. It was pretty hilarious to see the act of studio painting recast as a sporting metaphor along the lines of Top Chef or Project Runway, taking something normally not performed for an audience and turning it into a tension-filled TV formula.

A rematch was, of course, inevitable.

That happened early this year, as the two met again for the camera. Filmmaker Angela Izzo accompanied them on a road trip to the Bay Area, where Paint Fight Two: The Rematch was undertaken at the Berkeley studio of painter Wanda Westberg. Along the way, each man delivered work to one of the galleries that exhibits them both (another is La Brea’s Launch L.A.) — but by the time they got to Wanda’s, all bets were off.

The brand-new 13-minute, epically soundtracked and interview-peppered short film Paint Fight Two: The Rematch, which has its public debut here via L.A. Weekly, is the result. Talks are already underway for a tie-breaking third round, perhaps in front of a live studio audience.

In the meantime, back home in L.A. the two continue their point-scoring, as each currently finds himself in shows facing off across town. Salamon is featured as both painter and subject at a Molly Barnes–curated group show at West L.A. College examining the dynamic of artists who paint other artists (through June 30); and Wray is a star of the California Art Club’s 107th Gold Medal Exhibition, at the Natural History Museum through July 1.

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