When Woodie Wentworth strolls down history-drenched MacDougal Street in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village, walking the same path of dissension as such luminaries as Pollock, Ginsberg, and Dylan – both Thomas and Bob – she doesn’t look necessarily out of place. Her t-shirt and jeans are respectably unassuming; her hair, decidedly undone. If anything, she looks hungry, and she readily admits a desire to eat as she positions herself in one of Caffé Reggio’s coveted, yet uncomfortably warped, wire bistro chairs along the sidewalk. “I think about food almost incessantly,” she says, scooting her bantam-sized body toward the table. New to New York City, having arrived barely a week before, she is either unimpressed with her environs or savvy enough to keep her enthusiasm in check.
A Columbia native and 2004 graduate of Winthrop University, Wentworth is one of thousands of young people who face off against The Big City every year, hoping for, at minimum, their 15 minutes of fame and, at most, the right to call themselves the moniker that too many people throw imprudently around – “artist.”
But Wentworth, a schooled graphics designer with a gift for doodling and a penchant for the peculiar, has no delusions of grandeur. “People ask me what I do, and it’s difficult to say,” she admits. “I’m still hesitant to call myself an artist, although I know I need to get into the habit of doing so.”
The reality is that Wentworth has been working at her art for years, both for herself – the most recent of her gallery showings was a group exhibit in July at Devine Eyes; and for The Man – Wentworth has designed for a number of screen printers and graphics studios in Columbia.
“Everything is so planned for you when you’re in school,” she says. “I was burned out after graduation so I went home, sat on my couch, ate ice cream sundaes, and watched too much Judge Joe Brown on TV. Finally, I said to myself, ‘I have to get a job.’ But I didn’t think it was possible to truly be an artist for a living, even though that was what I wanted to do.”
Lunch arrives and Wentworth tucks into her vegetarian tramezzini like a champ.
Taking a break from a bite, she goes on. “The thing that pushed me into pursuing the life of an artist was seeing how bad some people’s work is, and yet, they have no qualms calling themselves artists. That helped me look at my work and say, ‘I know I’m better than that.’”
While most art patrons will agree with her decision, most will also have to admit that Wentworth’s work is something of an acquired taste. A blend of innovative sketching and avant-garde cartooning with the occasional bit of verbiage thrown in, her creations are dernier cri among both hipsters and those who walk the walk but deny the label. Think textured paintings of breakfast foods and quirky creatures accompanied by seemingly nonsensical captions. Her philosophical influences include Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson and comedy writer and actor Tina Fey, but her artistic inspirations come from Gary Boseman, who coined the term “pervasive art,” and Charleston artist, Tim Hussey.
While not quite yet eccentric, Wentworth can easily be described as unconventional, particularly in where she finds her muses. One of her fondest tales is of dumpster-diving in South Carolina where she once found two boxes containing 100 tiny toy dinosaurs each. “I spray painted them silver and placed them all over town,” she smirks. “I called them my ‘trash toy installation.’”
Currently she is working on a character and single sentence series of drawings in which personality-laden animals and created figures are depicted with statements that may or may not be randomly assigned. It is an expansion on one of her favorite pieces, Cowboy Carl; a small pink creature with seriously bowed legs wearing an over-sized cowboy hat. Cowboy Carl’s defining statement reads, “At that moment, Carl knew that he was meant to ride horses.”
One wonders what Woodie Moon, Wentworth’s maternal great-great grandmother would think of her petite but certainly bad-ass namesake, who oft goes by the name Girl Woodie lest she be confused with a male band mate named Woodie with whom she played bass guitar in the Columbia band, The Open Fires. “My family supports me and my move to New York,” she decides. “I think she would be okay with it.”
The wind picks up billowing down from Washington Square Park all the way to the corner of Bleeker Street and, with all the food consumed, lunch appears to be said and done. Offered another coffee, the South in the Girl rises and she politely declines. For the time being, that is. But New York shouldn’t trust her not to take a sizeable bite out of anything it has to offer. Even as she stands to leave, you can still see the hunger in her eyes.