RAW Phoenix's CURRENT at Monarch Theatre: Refreshing, Despite Underwhelming Visual Art

RAW:Natural Born Artists is an international organization that aims to unite local fashion designers, musicians, and artists of all ilks. Their most recent Phoenix showcase, entitled CURRENT (yes, all caps) made its way to the Monarch Theatre on November 19. We were there to check it out.

There was something refreshing about CURRENT. RAW was established to help creatives with less than 10 years of experience succeed by providing exposure, community, and support. Some of the works featured were clearly by amateurs; others demonstrated a higher level of sophistication. While there were certainly some ubiquitous visual art exhibitions (can we just get over photographing desert landscapes and vintage signs? Please?), there were plenty of others that were visually striking, intellectually compelling, or simply beautiful.

See also: Phoenix Sky Harbor Artwork: A Viewing Guide

Over 40 artists were present at the showcase. Their works ranged from jewelry design to watercolors to hair and makeup. The bottom floor of the Monarch Theatre was mostly occupied by the musical acts and their audiences. The music was not notable.

In the stairwells and stationed in corners were models on pedestals. They also mingled in the crowd, forming sort of a mobile, interactive fashion show. Sophia Idowu, a makeup artist, dressed her models in white with spindly gold antler-like headdresses. Shimmering yet understated makeup enhanced the models' natural beauty without being overt or overwhelming. Gold decals accented their bodies, creating an ethereal, goddess-like effect.

Lana May, a jewelry designer, also had a strong showing. Her models dressed in black with silver lamé skirts and minimal makeup, which drew attention to her super-fun silver and black statement jewelry. Other pieces featured intricate, colorful beadwork with vintage details.

Another jewelry designer, Cheryl Senkfor of Woven Angel, created her works from wreathes of copper, silver, and gold wire. Her jewelry had an unique story behind it. After nearly dying as a result of a cerebral hemorrhage, she was left with better than average motor skills. Senkfor now donates 10 percent of Woven Angel's profits to the Brain Injury Alliance.

The photography showing at CURRENT was pretty weak; color-saturated portraits and boring silver gelatin prints of old cars and storm clouds dominated the show. One photographer stood out from this mediocre pack. Andrew Ruiz of Loud Cloud Photography had a sense of humor that shined through in his works. One piece featured a horse bearing its teeth in a wide grin. "That's Hay is for Horses," Ruiz said. "I told that horse to smile for me, and he did!"

The paintings at CURRENT were equally underwhelming; many were unfinished, or lacked any sense of discernible focus. That being said, there were a few great exceptions.

Our favorite painting exhibition was by Carla Keaton. Keaton's classic muted portraiture did not immediately grab the eye, but was beautiful and complex at second look. Her works were glimpses into the lives of single mothers, complete with stories about their subjects. This was a system of storytelling that you might expect to see at a photography exhibition, but that was much more powerful as a result of her chosen medium. Keaton's portraits walked the fine line between being moving and being maudlin, and succeeded at being powerful without being coercively emotional.

Molly Bridget Dean also created black and white ink works that required a second look to fully appreciate. From a distance, her works seemed fairly simple; but a closer look showed layers of complexity and saturation that stood out for their level of skill and detail.

There were, of course, some oddball exhibits as well. Sandi McAslan won our award for weirdness with her collection of steampunk-ish oddity boxes. Aged paper, skins of various animals, and skeletal elements came together in three dimensional collages. Her table had a spooky and gross arrangement of dirty latex gloves, fairy statuettes, and bloody hypodermic needles. Because who doesn't want to look at that.

Lindsay Bessanson of Hadal Art also stood out for her mixed media pieces that primarily featured mechanized beetles and bugs. Some of even used real bugs as a medium. Also, there were tarantulas. In frames.

RAW's next Phoenix showcase will be titled VISIONARY and will take place at the Monarch Theatre on February 5, 2015.

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