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Charlotte Arts Community Grows with RAW: Natural Born Artists

Updated on April 22, 2014

Artists of all kinds unite for RAW: Spectrum

Designer: Vesela Zarankova
Designer: Vesela Zarankova | Source

Tremont Music Hall brings the artists together

On April 17, just after the blood moon, and in the middle of the final cold snap, RAW: Natural Born Artists showcased over 35 Charlotte artists at Tremont Music Hall. Tickets were $15 for pre-sale, and $20 at the door, and the dress was 'Cocktail attire'. Needless to say, this drew a very different crowd to Tremont than I have ever seen.

RAW Charlotte is a chapter of an international community of artists spanning over 65 countries world-wide. With the motto of “We Dig The Underground”, RAW's mission is to lay out the tools for artists to further their careers, and provide them the venues where they can be showcased on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. This is all thanks to Heidi Luerra and Matthew Klahorst, founders and creators of RAW as we know it today.


The woman who spearheaded this event, and the event coming on June 19, is Heather McAlpine. Throughout the night my photographer and I heard her name multiple times, with shining praises. This is what she had to say about RAW and the Charlotte scene:

"I can tell you it has been such a pleasure discovering the talent that exists in and around Charlotte. I have been with RAW since last summer; I worked as the Production Assistant for the Atlanta RAW Showcase Director, Kaitlin Bradberry and learned all about the organization in that way."

McAlpine went on to talk about the passion behind RAW:

"I fell in love with RAW for several reasons, but the biggest one was that it offered every wanting and driven artist the opportunity to show their work in a fun and relaxed environment, while still being presented professionally and advantageously."

Artist Eric Alan works on a live painting next to the stage.
Artist Eric Alan works on a live painting next to the stage. | Source

RAW Spectrum was an organized collaboration, exposing everyone to some new art

That evening at Tremont revolved around the artists whose mediums ranged from paint, airbrush, video, fabric, pen and ink, glass, leather, wood, metal, sound, hair, even models, comedians, and photographers were in abundance to stake their claim on a piece of the Carolina scene.

Some of the featured artists arrive at dusk they are joined by loyal friends, who then served as canvas roadies. They all created their own corner of art in the manageable maze winding throughout Tremont's main stage, and into the smaller casbah. We took preliminary pictures of the setup, and upon surveying the scene, my photographer Holly Therrell and l set out to visit every artist, and talk to them about the experience with RAW.

Our first stop was with Elena Calebro, who we had previously interviewed for April's feature. She was excited, and set up for business with a grid backdrop to hang her art, spotlights, and business cards for the hundreds of people expected. While she set up, we stopped next door to her.

Eric Alan was in that booth with a style that I enjoyed to be illustrative and imaginative, he was entertaining with his live painting. He was intent on creating more art that night, and as people went around the corner he was adjacent to, they couldn't help but stop and take a look at his work in progress. We talked a bit about his compositions, and he was open and welcome to the questions.

When artists collide, personalities fly

Artist Taylor McClure looks like he's telling some secrets to his work.
Artist Taylor McClure looks like he's telling some secrets to his work. | Source

Each artist was able to network as well as meet potential buyers

Taylor McClure, known as Tarantuga was nice enough to gift my photographer and I with some free hand-drawn stickers. His style, on canvas and in personality, was very underground and bold. With a big bushy beard and a fitted hat, he stood in front of his work casually. He exclaimed that it was “so far so good. Heather (the event coordinator) has been nothing but awesome, she's number one.” When asked about how he heard about RAW and this event, he mentioned that they “found me through my website in January.”

As we interviewed people, it became apparent that many of these artists were enjoying RAW for the first time, and that this event was only one of two that have happened so far in the Charlotte chapter. Considering the organization, probably thanks to the acclaimed Heather McAlpine and company, it will not be the last event.

We met a steel artist, using rust to manipulate the raw used metal into large compositions, as well as beautiful white steel prints. He was an older artist, Jay Zinn, which I was glad to see, considering the number of younger artists who dominate much of the scene.

Some of the artists were less talkative, but just as approachable. They seemed content working on some live art, and many people crowding around didn't seem to mind either. That was the case with Sonya Lovecraft, an artist utilizing airbrush on canvas to create unreal spacey landscapes, portraits, and dreamy images.

Heather Boyce was enjoying the night showcasing her photography, which I can only describe as the least unsettling surrealism that I've seen in a while. She explains her baby-doll appendages in nature; “I had to emulate another photographer [for school], and one of my friends said I should submit it [to RAW], so here I am.”

Artist Jay Zinn stands by his fantastic steel art.
Artist Jay Zinn stands by his fantastic steel art. | Source
Sonya Lovecraft in mid-craft, this canvas took on a life of its own as the night progressed.
Sonya Lovecraft in mid-craft, this canvas took on a life of its own as the night progressed. | Source

Artists creating art on location

A second live painter, soft but well-spoken, was Lindsay Kosma. During her painting, we talked: “I really enjoy this, gives people a chance to see how it starts and my process. It's fun, I've done several live paintings. [My] central theme is contrast, dark emotions with light colors. [I] translate things I'm inspired by and paint them.”

As we continue to pass by the live painters, who typically wouldn't be allowed to paint during a gallery showcase due to high-class flooring and the amount of talking they must do, we notice some more performance-heavy artists.

A performance art group called Taproot, with Alex Lieberman and Brianna Smith, is on the smaller stage with a huge projection screen. Upon which they are showing the real time images of themselves, and those brave enough to hop onstage with various methods of lighting.

Lieberman explains that as he films the person moving light around, the camera is set to a low frame rate, causing a delay and infinite tunnel of images on the screen. This creates 'trails' of light, halos, and wings, depending on how the person moves the light.

Smith explains that this dynamic is “kind of being in the midst of it and experiencing the art.” It certainly was enjoyable to create some art myself, in that way.

Live painters took some time to talk with us

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Lindsay Kosma takes a moment from her live art to talk about her experience with RAW.Kosma working on her live painting throughout the evening.
Lindsay Kosma takes a moment from her live art to talk about her experience with RAW.
Lindsay Kosma takes a moment from her live art to talk about her experience with RAW. | Source
Kosma working on her live painting throughout the evening.
Kosma working on her live painting throughout the evening. | Source

Posh Hammer has a fitting name

Posh Hammer looking very bold, and sounding just as posh.
Posh Hammer looking very bold, and sounding just as posh. | Source

A variety of musicians perform while models network in the crowds

Posh Hammer's lead singer Tasnim, belts for the crowd.
Posh Hammer's lead singer Tasnim, belts for the crowd. | Source
Drake Murphy performs a lively, smooth set for RAW.
Drake Murphy performs a lively, smooth set for RAW. | Source
Shelly LaVo's (on the right) model sports a wild bird-inspired up-up-updo.
Shelly LaVo's (on the right) model sports a wild bird-inspired up-up-updo. | Source

Live Musicians and Hair Stylists unite

During our walking around, we could enjoy the musical performances from nearly anywhere in the venue. Posh Hammer performed, providing some pretty sick driving guitar and bass, matched with the surprising vocals. When I spoke to them about their group and their involvement with RAW, they continued to surprise me. Apparently they're all under sixteen, and all live in Asheville, which explained the fact that their style was way cooler than mine.

I asked for their names: “Now they're hard to spell, I am Navied, this is Tasnim, this is Tiam, and that is Daniel.” They were all siblings, except for Daniel, they suggested that there “may be a silent q in his name.”

Navied went on about the RAW showcase: “it's really cool, a lot of good stuff, neat vibe, different from bar shows. People are here for the art, not to get drunk.”

Therrell and I began to wander around, trying to tally the number of different kinds of artists we saw. So far it was painters, performance art, musicians, photographers, and just then a comedian was performing, Tyrone Burston, full of enthusiasm and could handle a crowd who wasn't entirely sure of what a comedian was, it seemed.

That's when we saw a young woman walking around with hair three feet high, teased and tousled into a tower, within which a fake bird and tiny bird house were nestled. Like any good model, when asked who did her hair, she directed me to cosmetology student Shelly LaVo. She and her peer Laura “Sparks” Franklin attended as separate artists, but both representing the local Paul Mitchell school. Sparks both had a model in the evening's runway show. Sparks' models were a vivid bubble gum pink style with crimping and pulled back; as well as a lovely, vintage, messy updo on a brunette.

Drake Murphy keeps the beat later into the evening

Drake Murphy and company set a groovy tone at the halfway mark of the evening.
Drake Murphy and company set a groovy tone at the halfway mark of the evening. | Source

Artists with multiple talents can join RAW for many mediums

Sparks is one of a few local artists who utilizes the RAW venues for more than just one talent. She is a hair stylist, as well as a local musician with Jack Derringer and The Smokin' Guns, who perform with the event as well, which includes her husband.

“This is one of the first stops to my overall runway career. My husband is also here as a stylist, and he's very supportive.”

We asked how she heard about RAW: “A guy from my school who performed as a platform artist [at RAW] told me about it.”

I asked her about the ins and outs about the event and how to become a part of it. “You have to apply, submit and show your work, then sell a certain amount of tickets, and they give you professional photographs [of the work].”

We heard the musical performance by Kylie Odetta from the other side of the venue, and met with her at her merch table. She and Drake Murphy shared the small space, but everyone seemed agreeable. The two of them, much like Posh Hammer, were well-established as an artistic unit, and were on the fast track to fame, considering their organization and talent. Odetta mentioned “all of the artists are really cool and supportive. [Everyone] is here for the art.”

From well-established to up and coming, RAW showcases many artists

Murphy was nice enough to talk with us for a moment about how he personally felt about the RAW event. “I love it, a new energy that I'm feeling that's amazing.” We talked a moment about his initials being DMB, and then he went to talk with more fans while we chatted with his publicists Mary Grace and Eddie Castille.

Having never spoken to publicists before, I expected dry answers, or those people in a rush to get to something else. This was not the case, and really exposed another layer of the music industry, even within the RAW environment. Still early in his career, Murphy and company are organizing themselves quite well.

Grace told me that they're releasing a new single for the summer called Simple Things with a video, a “fun summer song, lovey dovey.”

She goes on to say that “RAW is fun, we love their mission.”

The Runway

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Designed by Christine Rebich, fun and bold.Designed by Christine Rebich, my favorite of her line is the slate gray and furry.Designer Christine RebichDesigner Lizz Gibson's line is so playful.Designer Christine RebichDesigner Vesela Zarankova's chic silhouettes were breathtaking.Designer Vesela Zarankova.Designer Vesela Zarankova.Designer Lizz Gibson.
Designed by Christine Rebich, fun and bold.
Designed by Christine Rebich, fun and bold. | Source
Designed by Christine Rebich, my favorite of her line is the slate gray and furry.
Designed by Christine Rebich, my favorite of her line is the slate gray and furry. | Source
Designer Christine Rebich
Designer Christine Rebich | Source
Designer Lizz Gibson's line is so playful.
Designer Lizz Gibson's line is so playful. | Source
Designer Christine Rebich
Designer Christine Rebich | Source
Designer Vesela Zarankova's chic silhouettes were breathtaking.
Designer Vesela Zarankova's chic silhouettes were breathtaking. | Source
Designer Vesela Zarankova.
Designer Vesela Zarankova. | Source
Designer Vesela Zarankova.
Designer Vesela Zarankova. | Source
Designer Lizz Gibson.
Designer Lizz Gibson. | Source

The night ends with a runway show with inventive and classic Charlotte designers

Just before the runway segment of the event, we meet with the STZ Clothing company, operating out of their screenprint warehouse in NoDa. Founder Quint Noble talks to us about his very well-organized machine called STZ.

“We press our own prints, literally a garage project. We've done a few other booth set ups, [like] Surf Expo, started [this] like four years ago.”

The shirts, hats, koozies, prints, posters, and variety of other things that they manufacture are all cleanly printed, well-designed, and have a strong vibe of surf, snow, and wakeboarding style. He mention that RAW “brings other people that may not have found out about their products.” He adds that the shirts are customizable on their website, allowing for color or design change.

As the fashion show begins, Therrell and I take our positions by the runway. The first designer is Sara Johnson with her line of Darkness into Light. This consisted of a variety of paneling of contrasting materials. It was a formal line, fitted in a contemporary way. The makeup was over the top, but not distracting. Models varied in age and dress size, admirably so.

Lizz Gibson follows Johnston with a formal line of irreverent, mod and trashy, in the best way. Props like tree branches and balloons bring out the subtle patterns in the fabrics. Texture and pattern are mixed wildly, as well as the tone of darkness and childish silhouettes.

Vesela Zarankova commands the stage with her modern classics inspired by Great Gatsby. The inspiration is roaring, with prop pistols, flouncy bottoms, and multi-tiered dresses. The style is a firm femininity, which demands double-takes.

To round off the night of artists, Christine Rebich ends with a punch. Risque transparent paneling reveals the models in playful ways. Rich drew inspiration from the human body and figure, playfully showing off the various erotic zones, while not sacrificing the tight construction of her pieces. Very structured, and rigid fabrics, bring out the very unusual, but humorous concepts of the human body.

Designer Lizz Gibson and her runway team
Designer Lizz Gibson and her runway team | Source

For more information about RAW: Natural Born Artists

McAlpine is excited by the Charlotte scene, and looks forward to future events.

"I think Charlotte doesn't have anything else like RAW in existence right now, and from what I have come to find, artists are seeking out this type of platform in Charlotte, because it breaks out of the long-standing white-wall gallery type of setting. Plus these events are just a lot of fun! Now and for years to come, I would like for RAW to bring a new network of artists and their community together in order for everyone to benefit, whether it be making connections, recognizing and commissioning talent that RAW has exposed, or making new friends!"


The selection process is up to each individual city, and could win you a spot in a show in Hollywood, California. When choosing artists to showcase in Charlotte, McAlpine takes care to get to know each artist.

"I spend a lot of time scouting for talent and reviewing submissions. Typically each show I book up to 40 different types of artists. I set up phone interviews with the artists who have submitted to me to discuss their work and to see if they are the right fit for our type of show. After that, if they are willing to work hard, we work together to promote the event and I keep up with every artist personally, whether they are veterans at showcasing or if it is their first show."

Even she, the 'stage mom' as some may think of her, finds that this position allows her to put her own artistic past to good use.

"I love my job and I admire the people I meet every day. It is such a wonderful organization to be a part of and Charlotte's response has been tremendous! I graduated with a degree in Art History and couldn't have found a better way to put my degree to use!"


If you or somebody you know is interested in either attending an event or participating in a RAW event in your city, go to The RAW Artist website to find a city near you! For those in Charlotte or the Carolinas, McAlpine suggest you contact her on the Charlotte RAW page, and to hurry, because the next showcase, Panorama, is June 19.


In this article, not even half of the Featured Artists were covered, there were just so many to go around! If you're interested in who else was attending, check here, at the RAW Charlotte facebook page.

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