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Ray and the art of motorcycle maintenance: Film fest displays paintings from late W’burg icon

Skeleton crew: This Ray Abeyta painting is currently at an exhibition in Paris, so it will not be at the Motorcycle Film Festival on Sept. 23–27, but it is representative of the Williamsburg artist’s style.
Ray Abeyta

The mayor of Williamsburg rides again.

A Gowanus film festival devoted to motorcycle movies will honor a community icon, motorcycle enthusiast, and artist who passed away last year by displaying his work during its five-day run. The third annual Motorcycle Film Festival, revving up from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, will feature paintings by Ray Abeyta, known as the “honorary mayor” of Williamsburg for his role in the community’s art and nightlife.

One of the film festival’s co-founders says that including Abeyta’s work is “a natural fit.”

“Ray was pretty central to the whole scene that is motorcycle and art in Brooklyn,” said Jack Drury. “He was the hub of culture in Williamsburg.”

Abeyta, who died in a motorcycle accident in December 2014 at age 58, owned the motorcycle repair shop Works Engineering, and was a partner in nightlife hotspots Union Pool and Hotel Delmano. Born in a small New Mexico village, he created oil paintings in a baroque, Spanish Colonial style, often incorporating skeletons, pop culture items, and his catch-phrase “Te amo, baby.” Drury, who admits he has limited artistic expertise, called it a mix of Mexican folk art, rockabilly, and surrealism. He said his friend’s work always resonated with him.

“I didn’t make it far past Art History 101,” Drury said. “But I’m a huge admirer of his work.”

Drury and partner Corinna Mantlo created the Motorcycle Film Festival to honor cinematic appearances of motorcycles, whether in documentaries, shorts, features, or experimental films. This year’s screening will also feature a showing of the 1968 classic “Easy Rider,” followed by a discussion with two of the men who designed and built the bikes in the film.

The festival’s founders said they wish to keep Abeyta’s inclusive spirit alive, and so films featuring any kind of bikes — choppers, sport bikes, cafe racers, cruisers, or dirt bikes — are accepted in the fest. Mantlo and Drury said that because biking in New York City is so difficult, they people they meet in the motorcycle scene — people like Abeyta — are a special breed.

“New York’s a hard place to ride,” said Drury. “A lot of ice, snow, and potholes, but not a lot of parking. The people who do ride and make it a part of their life tend to be pretty great people.”

Motorcycle Film Festival Opening Reception “The Art of Ray Abeyta” at Littlefield [622 Degraw St. between Third and Fourth avenues in Gowanus, www.motorcyclefilmfestival.com] Sept. 23, 5–8 pm. Free. Festival screenings and discussions at Littlefield Sept. 23–27, at various times. $10–$15 per event. $95 VIP pass.

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at efaynberg@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.

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