BY PUMA PERL | Last week, Wendy Scripps, the owner of Wendigo Productions and Art on A, and I met up at the Bowery Electric’s Friday Happy Hour to chat about her work and her vision. This year, she is the Acker Award recipient for community activism; many folks acknowledge her as “The Godmother of the Lower East Side,” based on her mission to keep the Downtown scene alive.
“I love the outsiders, because I was an outsider,” said Scripps, who was born and raised in Northern California. “My parents moved to the Upper West Side when I was about 20, and a year later I found my home in the East Village. I never felt like I fit in before, but this neighborhood fit like a glove. When my mother told me about my great grandfather, Samuel Gompers, an immigrant who grew up down here, I understood the connection even better.” Looking around the bar, one could see living proof of the East Village family she has nurtured.
Raffaele Mary, widely known as Raff, was serving up the drinks. She is authentic rock and roll: former singer for Cycle Sluts from Hell, a writer, blogger, and general manager of Wendigo Productions and Art on A. In the DJ booth stood bassist Sam Hariss, member of The Sweet Things, one of the local bands that often plays at the rock shows presented by Wendigo.
Kelly Virginia Vinson, a Texas-born neighborhood artist and East Village resident whose jewelry creations are sold in Art on A’s shop, occupied one of the barstools. “I have trunk sales at the gallery, and every year there’s a holiday party and there are so many friends selling their work and buying gifts for others” she told me. “Wendy does so much more than people know about. She is also associate producer on films by Dean Dempsey [“Candy Apple”] and Michael Levine [“Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream”].”
The creation of Art on A grew organically under the umbrella of Wendigo Productions, founded in 2010, by Scripps, Rik Rocket, and other friends. The original focus was promoting and booking local bands. “I feel like I understand the way musicians think,” reflected Scripps. “We were the nerdy kids, the misdiagnosed kids. I was severely dyslexic and thrown in special education classes even though I read independently on a college level. I drew in full perspective at age 10. Our minds go on overload and we find different ways to communicate.” The original tiny storefront was located on Avenue B, and they began inviting bands and local artists to display their merchandise in the window. They tried an art show, and decided to find bigger digs and open up a gallery. “It’s hard to get gallery shows if you are outside the norm. We love the outsider art,” said Scripps.
And the “outsiders” love Art on A, which seamlessly merges mediums. As Raff pointed out during my visit to the gallery, “We all come from several worlds. Rik is an artist and the original guitarist of the Toilet Böys. People know me from the rock world, but may not realize that I studied at Parsons.” The shows and the artists reflect that sensibility. October 2016’s “The Art of New York Rock” exhibition presented the artwork of musicians included in Steven Blush’s book “New York Rock.” Included were Chris Stein, Rick Bacchus, and many others. The closing party featured live music, with crowds spilling over into the street.
March 2017’s “The Art of New York Waste” exhibition celebrated the underground rock and roll newspaper, with work by editor-in-chief/photographer Lucky Lawler and many other contributors. Robert Butcher, an artist and photographer who was included in the New York Waste event, talked to me about his September 2016 solo show, “American Madonnas & Liars,” which included images of both Raff and Scripps, and explored the interaction between subject and viewer.
“I met Wendy at Manitoba’s [99 Ave. B] and loved her straightway,” said Butcher. “It was like speaking to an old friend. Wendy is benevolent, a benefactor, and a patron with a unique vision. She’s the glue that holds us together.” Scripps intends to continue her mission by exploring different fronts, both personally, and for the community. “I don’t like to be onstage,” she said. “I’m a behind-the-scenes person. I’m working on a nonprofit to help artists stay in the neighborhood by securing housing. For myself, I would like to study poetry and writing. Someday, I want to publish my memoirs.”
Currently on view is a look into the world of artist, Katrina del Mar, a multi-faceted East Village resident. She’s an art and commercial photographer, visual artist, painter, filmmaker, and also fronts a punk band, The Shirtlifters. Del Mar’s show, “Feral Women/Filmed Portraits,” returns her to her roots as a visual artist with a riveting exhibition of photo portraits, filmed portraits, and black velvet paintings and drawings. During the run of the show, some of del Mar’s films will be shown, and raucous opening and closing parties are to be expected.
“I’m super excited to be showing at Art on A, to be working with curator Rik Rocket and with Raffaele,” she said. “They are East Village legends, both badass rock ’n rollers whose art practices are cross-disciplinary, encompassing music, writing, and visual arts. I’m grateful to Wendy Scripps for doing her part in keeping the art and music scene going in this rapidly gentrifying city. The corporate culture is trying to make a corpse out of our amazing city, to drain the blood and flatline the pulse by ousting the artists. We are here fighting to keep the heart and soul of the city alive and well!”
Katrina del Mar’s “Feral Women/Filmed Portraits” exhibition runs April 27-May 18, at Art on A Gallery (24 Ave. A, btw. Second & Third Sts.). Gallery Hours: Mon., Thurs., Fri. & Sat., 1–8pm; Sun., 1–7pm. Call 212-300-4418 or visit artonagallery.com. Also visit wendigoproductions.com and katrinadelmar.com.