An ourpouring of RAW talent in the Strip
"There Goes the Shirt" a digital artwork by Jean D. Prophete aka LinShuttr at CAVO.
James Gyre, left, talks to customers about his prints at CAVO in the Strip.
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A few weeks ago, Brett Zoric had no idea he would perform for hundreds of people in the multimedia band Chrome Baby Jesus.
"We had never played before," he said. "We got booked before we had a name or songs."
Mr. Zoric's band, which integrates live instrumental performance with real-time digital manipulation, had its debut Thursday night at Pittsburgh's first RAW: Natural Born Artists showcase at CAVO, a Strip District nightclub on Smallman Street. RAW is an international organization that operates in 54 cities to give local artists a venue to sell, showcase and promote their work.
Outside, CAVO looked like any club on a busy night: a line of eager 20-somethings snaked around the block, waiting for the approving nod of a bouncer. Inside, the club ceded some of its identity to a range of artists, including Magical Psychic T-shirt makers, fashion designers, fire ensconced hula-hoop dancers and filmmakers.
Before forming Chrome Baby Jesus, Mr. Zoric worried about relying on a DJ to synthetically provide percussive background sounds.
"We thought that the human things that make music wonderful -- like mistakes -- would be lost if we just had someone with an iPod who just pushes play."
But his fears seemed to be quelled as he took the makeshift stage with a floor-to-ceiling turquoise waterfall as a backdrop. The band sounds a little like an unfiltered offshoot of Radiohead and The Police, aided by the rousing sound of slightly inebriated cheers.
Throughout the night, music filled the venue that, with rare exception, never let viewers forget that the more traditional visual art was treading on the nightclub's territory. The visual artists were each given a small section of the club to lay out their work. Some were nestled in corners, others were positioned on the wraparound balcony overlooking the main dance floor.
Emily Young, a painter interested in exploring the nature of secrets, showed off a series of vibrant yet detached paintings, clearly influenced by Dali, in a cramped hallway leading to the dance floor.
Around the corner, fashion designer Katie Maillis displayed her "Streetheart" clothing line, which she explained is "for girls who aren't afraid to punch you in the face." She showed off a T-shirt with the image of a gold lipstick case that dispenses a knife with the words "lookin' sharp." With a grin and some swagger, Ms. Maillis said she's a "city influenced person."
Thursday marked the first of what Leigh Yock, the RAW Pittsburgh showcase director, hopes will be regular local RAW events scheduled for the first Thursday of every month.
Ms. Yock is responsible for choosing 20 to 30 artists in film, fashion, photography, hair, makeup, visual art, performing art, accessories and music to showcase each month. The selected artists are given a profile on RAW's national website, professional photos of their work and a showcase at a local RAW event.
More than 500 people were expected to attend the soldout event. "We are hoping for a circus of creativity," Ms. Yock said.
The showcase struggled at moments to balance its packed party atmosphere, which caters to those interested in tattoo and caricature art, with a more refined gallery ambiance that demands a viewer's time and focus.
While many attendees were impressed with the popularity and multi-genre nature of the showcase, Monika Gibson, a local artist who wasn't involved directly with the event, pointed out that, "It feels like they focus on one 'clubby' aesthetic. [There could have been] more video art, objects and abstract stuff," Ms. Gibson said. "The Pittsburgh art scene is so big; there shouldn't be a focus on one type [of art]."
Despite those criticisms, Ms. Gibson said she enjoyed the event and hoped the showcase would inspire more arts events in the Strip District.
"It's really positive that people aren't just here for the club."
First Published February 9, 2013 12:00 am