Abeyta, neighborhood elder and regular fixture in the Williamsburg scene, died tragically in a motorcycle crash late last year, leaving behind his wife, Alyssa, and two kids. His family and friends, of which there were many, were devastated to say the least. But the sheer number of people who came out in support of the badass dude with a heart of gold, lining up at his memorial procession through the streets of Williamsburg and posting personal stories about Ray on social media, demonstrated the kind of impact he had on people.
“Everybody has their own individual love and friendship with Ray,” explained co-founder of the Motorcycle Film Festival Corinna Mantlo, who became fast friends with Ray when they met back in 2004. “I think that’s something that really speaks to his character– he really was that open-hearted, absolutely endearing human being who made everybody feel like they were his best friend and that’s sort of an incredible thing to see in someone. You don’t find that often.”
I wondered if Mantlo knew Ray better as an artist or a friend. “Ray was his art. There really wasn’t any separation, his art was everywhere,” she explained. “There wouldn’t have been a way to know him without knowing he was an artist– it was all over his studio, and he lived in his studio. He was always sitting outside of Works Engineering painting something.”
Besides working as an artist, Ray was also a small business owner, as a partner at Union Pool and a motorcycle enthusiast who lived alongside his bikes at Works Engineering, another Williamsburg business he had a hand in. Given these experiences, it’s no wonder Ray had the backs of Corinna and co-founder Jack Drury when they set out to start the film fest.
“He’s known us as friends since before, so when we did this he was very, very supportive– like everybody was– but just with him, I don’t know what it was exactly,” Mantlo recalled. “He’s just always been a very good friend, he was very encouraging of anybody and that’s one of the things that made him great. You’d sit down and have a beer with him, walk by Works Engineering, stop for a minute and hang out. You might be having a rough day, or stressed out or worried about something and he just had an amazing way of taking ten minutes, and somehow you walked away feeling much better about what you were trying to struggle through in your own brain.”
As a nod to Ray’s importance to the community represented at the MFF and the film fest itself, Mantlo and Alyssa Abeyta worked together to select a small but significant collection of Ray’s early work to show at Littlefield throughout the fest. “We’re showing pieces from when he arrived in New York in the mid-’80s, ” Mantlo explained. “The focus is on slightly more abstract pieces from the mid-’80s to late-’90s, and works that are smaller in scale than his later work.”
These diminutive paintings might be barely recognizable as work by the same artist who created massive realist pieces that evoked and mastered disparate elements from Baroque to 19th century poster art and contemporary Chicano culture, but they still hold a special place in Ray’s oeuvre.
The mini-show reveals a more personal side of Ray’s artistic output. “These are the pieces that no matter what he did later on, they always hung in his studio, and there wasn’t room for all of his work, so he definitely selected what went into storage and what stayed in front of him for inspiration,” Mantlo said. “We thought it was a nice way to have another look into the brain of Ray.”
Last night at the opening, a video made by a friend and videographer Christina Reilly that captured Ray’s memorial send-off, played silently on loop. “It’s just a short, two-minute piece,” Mantlo explained. “It’s quite lovely, it’s not somber. It’s not sad. It’s the happy, amazing memorial service Ray’s friends threw for him to celebrate his life and not his death, which was his way.”
“I think when people talk about Ray and do things about and for him,” she added. “Things just have a way of coming together in quite a lovely way.”
Ray Abeyta’s work will be on view in the lobby at Littlefield from now until the Motorcycle Film Festival closes on Sunday, September 27.