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RAW's FUSION: Still Underdone and Way Overcrowded

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Sometimes, the best part of a planned event is the unplanned part. Such was the case with the "RAW: Phoenix Presents FUSION" show at the Ghost Lounge in the Hotel San Carlos last night.

This was the third event at the San Carlos hosted by RAW, a California-based organization that seeks to showcase up-and-coming artists. Artists submit their works for possible inclusion in RAW events February through October, and at the end of the season, one artist gets a $1,000 grant. Last night's event included works by ten scheduled artists, including photographers Tage Michael, J.G. Wentsworth, and Images By Eric, along with paintings and multi-media works by Jon Garza and Daniel Navarrette. But the most colorful images -- and dance moves -- of the night belonged Matt Crux, a last-minute booking who wasn't advertised.

Dressed in a feather-capped hat, Crux stood in front of his colorful, elegant paintings of genitalia and psychedelic sea themes, dancing around for the cameras. He interacted a lot with the crowd, which was immense. An hour after the doors opened, there were wall-to-wall people at FUSION, and eventually, there were no clear paths to walk through and it was hard to get up close to some of the art.

When RAW hosted its last event, "Artcade," here back in April, we found that the events were still a little underdone, with only a handful of artists participating. There were a lot more artists this time around, and attendance is clearly growing into the hundreds. Sara Wilwerding, showcase director for RAW, says they sold around 300 tickets (at $10 each) for this show. She partly credits a fierce online promotional campaign, but mostly the artwork. "Everyone is hand-selected," Wilwerding says proudly. "We want to show the best up-and-coming artists that we can."

In addition to the art, the event included live music by soulful hip-hop/spoken word artist Queen B and funk band Sneak Attack. DJ Sac Fly also spun funk (with lots of horns), along with things like Snoop Dogg and Blondie's "The Rapture."

But of the 11 even artists at FUSION, only three stood out for us. One was of course Crux, whose pair of panel paintings depicting an elegant, curving penis and a surrealistic, flowing vagina have been hanging at Conspire for a month. Done in rich purple and pink acrylics, the images in the paintings are rather subtle. "I didn't want to do something vulgar," Crux says. "I didn't start with an overarching plan. I chose pink and purple because I think those colors are sexual, and I went from there."

"And look," he says, turning the penis painting from vertical to horizontal. "Here, where I painted the flowing ejaculating sperm, it looks like a woman walking elegantly. That was totally not intentional."

Jon Garza's paintings with Latino images and themes, including an arm raised with a fist, covered in "La Raza" tattoos, were also eye-catching and provoking. Garza sold the fist painting the morning of this event, after previewing the painting on Twitter.

​Daniel Navarrette's artwork also drew quite an audience. His large canvas paintings (all airbrushed freehand) depict everything from Buddha to arrangements of bottles. He had the most unique piece at the show -- a motorcycle helmet covered in eerie, airbrushed images of screaming skulls and pirate ships. Navarrette has a motorcycle (a 1998 Vulcan) to go with his super cool helmet.

Aside from the power going off for a few minutes near the beginning of the night, and the intense crowding well into the night, the RAW: Phoenix Presents FUSION event continued the organization's upward trend. Wilwerding says they're planning to move to a much larger venue downtown for the next event, though "it hasn't been finalized yet."

They definitely need a larger venue. There was some fun, interesting art and good music there, but there were also too many people crammed together, to the point of unpleasantness. It's one thing to have a big "mixer" vibe to an event; it's completely another to have people literally rubbing elbows and sometimes bumping each others' drinks. Hopefully, they can get larger accommodations next time.

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