On Being RAW

RAW Grandeur Phoenix Showcase Artist Johnny Kerr

A few months ago I received an unexpected email from a woman in Los Angeles who I soon learned was the showcase director for RAW, an organization whose mission is to seek out and promote up-and-coming artists. This was the first I had heard of RAW but I immediately loved their mission as I’ve never heard of anyone else out there doing what they’re doing to bring exposure to unknown artists. After a phone conversation with the showcase director I was invited to participate in the Grandeur showcase in Phoenix on March 19th. RAW doesn’t take commission for any art that you sell at their event and they provide, along with the public exposure brought by the actual showcase event, several other perks to help promote their showcasing artists. The only thing they asked in return is for each artist to sell 20 tickets to the event. Although I was out of my comfort zone, I immediately saw the value in this opportunity and decided to go for it.


Johnny Kerr RAW Artist Showcase Booth for Grandeur Phoenix
My RAW booth, all set up. I received many compliments throughout the evening on how much people enjoyed my presentation. Photo by Jeremiah Toller

It has taken me the better part of the last week to process and recover from my experience as a RAW showcase artist. I say recover because social events of this magnitude take a LOT of energy out of this introvert. I love people and believe strongly in community but social interaction is still a source of major anxiety (and awkwardness) for me. I also spent countless hours in the weeks prior helping to promote the event, printing and framing eighteen of my photographs, printing and packaging thirty additional prints for sale, designing and self-publishing a book of my Abstract series, designing and building my booth, and then bringing it all together for the actual event. To say I was exhausted the next few days after the show would be a severe understatement, but it was also mixed with a sense of accomplishment and gratefulness. This was by far the biggest art event I’ve ever participated in and I learned a lot from it. All of the people I connected with that night were wonderful and overall I look back on the experience with fondness.

Johnny Kerr RAW Artist Showcase Booth for Grandeur Phoenix
A couple browsing my prints for sale. Photo by Jeremiah Toller

If I am completely honest I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed at the end of the evening as I had hoped more people would purchase prints so that I could break even for all the financial resources I had poured into this venture. When the show closed I had sold only four prints and none of my books. However, I think my disappointment was just a case of my expectations being too high and the result me being too hard on myself, as usual. With every artist selling at least 20 tickets to the event it stands to reason that most of the crowd in attendance were friends and family of other artists in the showcase, and therefore did not likely come to the event planning to make a purchase. I also didn’t give away my prints by pricing them desperately low like I’ve see many photographers at art fairs do. I priced them fairly based on what I thought they were worth for the time, vision and work I had put into them. When I consider the big picture I am very grateful that I sold the four prints that I did. The best compliment I can get as an artist is for someone to like my work enough that they want to take it home to put it on their wall.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the curator of a prominent fine art gallery in downtown Phoenix (right in the heart of the First Friday circuit on Roosevelt Row) so I’m eagerly waiting (and hoping) to see if that will turn into another exhibition for me. So, although I didn’t break even from a financial standpoint, other potential benefits of participating in this show may still come to fruition. Another great part of the evening was networking with other local artists. Here’s a quick shout out to a few of the talented artists I had the pleasure of meeting that evening (click the links to check out their work): illustrator Tammy Witzens, figure artist Jeanna Delfin, photographer Janelle Frampton, photographer David Rodriguez, and charcoal artist Nadia Vanilla.

Johnny Kerr RAW Artist Showcase Booth for Grandeur Phoenix
Went through a lot of business cards that night. Photo by Jeremiah Toller

Above all, I want to express how much I am filled with overwhelming gratitude toward my friends, family and colleagues who supported me in this endeavor. I was very nervous about having to sell 20 tickets to the event because it was a big financial risk for me (if I didn’t sell my 20 tickets I had to pay for the deficit out of my own pocket) on top of the cost to print and frame a large number of my photographs for display. Inviting people to pay $15 to come to downtown Phoenix and try to find parking on a Thursday evening to attend an art reception when they have work the next morning was a tough sell. Not to mention the fact that I am very uncomfortable promoting myself, and am probably the world’s worst salesman. However, my fears and expectations were completely shattered when my friends, family and colleagues responded with generosity and kindness, resulting in 60 tickets sold! Three times the required amount! If you purchased a ticket from me and are reading this now, please accept, once again, my most humble thanks.


Johnny Kerr RAW Artist Showcase Booth for Grandeur Phoenix
Having a chat with my Dad and a friend while a guy in the background makes creepy eyes at the camera… (photo by Jeremiah Toller)

I suppose the measure of any endeavor could be: Would I do it again? Yes, I think I would. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that RAW provided for me to share my artwork with Phoenix. I am extremely grateful to the friends, family and colleagues who supported me by purchasing a ticket and coming down to see my exhibit. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to meet and talk with other inspired artists who had the guts to say yes and go for it. I owe a big thanks to my new friend, Jim, who provided the financial resources for me to print copies of my books to have at my booth. I also owe a HUGE thank you to my wife, Jessi, who always encourages and supports me in my art. She also gave me the time and space at home to put all of this together, helped me setup and tear down the display, and stood by me all night.

One of the other benefits I receive as a RAW exhibitor is the option to showcase in any of the other 60 cities nationwide (plus Australia, London and Tokyo) without having to sell tickets again. I am still considering the logistics of it but I think I may take a shot at Los Angeles. Art is not just a hobby for me. I would do it full time if I could do so and still provide for my family. Art is my passion, a driving force in my life, a glorious beast that I intend to keep on nurturing! I don’t know if anything big will ever come of the work I create but I will keep doing it anyway because it’s what I love to do and it is a huge part of who I am.