Artists have a wonderful gift for transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. For the last ten years Jersey City artist Kayt Hester has done just that; turning black masking tape into works of art.
JCI recently had the opportunity to meet with Hester in her Jersey City studio to discuss her upcoming solo exhibition at LITM and get a sneak peak of the new work. For her ten year anniversary as a tape artist, Hester has created new images based on previous themes she has explored over the last decade. Themes such as movie stills, geisha girls, numeral landscapes (pictured below), poppies, animals, and the wild west. Hester will also exhibit some of the images used in past window installations. These images, like the Lenni Lenape Indians displayed at Gallery Aferro in Newark and an owl holding an umbrella from the Wix Lounge in New York City, will be available for the first time on canvas. A few new visual surprises will be included as well.
For the first time, Hester will also exhibit collaborations with fellow Jersey City artists Norm Kirby and CP HARRIK. “I never thought I would have collaborated with anybody but I love the work of those two gentlemen so much that I would gladly collaborate with them again. They add stuff to the pieces that I would have never thought of,” said Hester. She explained how difficult yet fun it was to give up control and hand her work over to someone else to complete.
Hester created a number of canvases based on the story of Moby Dick. She chose this particular story as a tribute to her father explaining, “He loves the movie and the book more than anyone else on the planet. It is a little shout out to him.” ‘Captain Ahab’ (pictured below) is one of the canvases illustrating stills from the 1956 movie.
Hester’s color theme is consistently black and white with the occasional use of color; usually red. ‘2 Divers’ (pictured below) is one of the many pieces Hester has created with red as the background. She prefers this color combination of red and black because it looks sharp and because it speaks to her. Most times the color choice is planned out prior to starting a piece but there are also moments when a finished piece calls for some unexpected color. She explained, “If the piece calls for a color I will do it. The good thing about tape is that you can add whatever you want and if you don’t like it it peels right off. The tape just comes right up again and I can start from scratch. I mean it’s not always that easy. Sometimes I will be working for twelve hours straight and decide I hate it and take the whole thing down and those are very defeating days.”
Every part of the canvas including the colored background is all meticulously done in tape. Hester will build up layers of tape when she wants to add texture. Although the use of texture is not new to her work, her most recent pieces have an extreme amount of it. “I use texture to add to the environment and emotion of the piece,” said Hester. ‘The White Whale’, another piece based on Moby Dick, is completely built up with texture. The blue colored tape of the water combined with the black darkened sky is used to express an emotion of anger. A photo taken from the side of the canvas (pictured below) shows just how much texture layered tape can produce.
Until recently, Hester tore every piece of tape by hand. Since her new work requires sharper details, she started using an X-Acto knife. “I used to be obsessed with hand torn [tape] but I just decided to not hold myself to that set of rules anymore. If a detail calls for me to use an X-Acto knife in order for me to get it perfect then I am going to use a knife. I am kind of breaking my own rules because I just want everything to be as precise as possible,” she said. Precision and detail is what makes her work that much more extraordinary. From a distance her work looks like a painting — every element of the canvas from the black masking tape to the colored tape background can be confused for paint instead of tape.
Kayt Hester standing in front of her window installation of the Lenni Lenape Indians at Gallery Aferro, 2014, photo by Alex Heitzenrater
Hester’s process for starting a new piece begins with searching for an image on the Internet. The image is then extensively altered by adding new elements or taking out the unnecessary. From there she works directly from the altered image, tearing many pieces of black tape and arranging them onto the canvas. The final step, Hester’s least favorite, is to varnish the finished canvas. “I literally have to sit and watch the varnish dry in case a piece of tape curls up,” said Hester. The curled up tape can harden underneath the layer of varnish, ruining the work. Before that happens, Hester will cut it off or remove the piece of tape and reapply a new piece. Sometimes the act of brushing on the varnish will result in the removal of black fibers from the tape. These tiny specks will need to be picked off one at a time. And then, of course, there is the occasional cat hair that has to be removed.
Kayt Hester is also known to the Jersey City community for her love of cats. She lives with two indoor cats, Harry and Pixie, in addition to caring for many outdoor cats who make their home in her backyard. As is the tradition with all of her past LITM exhibits, Hester will create a few animal inspired pieces in order to raise money to benefit the Hudson County Animal League and Companion Animal Trust. Both groups hold pet adoptions every Saturday and Sunday out of the downtown pet store Fussy Friends located at 148 Newark Ave. in Jersey City. In addition to the sale of these art works, 100% of the proceeds from the sale of stickers and pins created with photos of Hester’s art will also be donated.
This exhibit marks Hester’s fifth solo show at LITM. Over twenty pieces of art with prices ranging from $50-$1,500 will be available for purchase. Art prints will also be for sale. Last year Hester’s solo exhibit practically sold out and broke LITM sales records for the most art sold during a single show. In addition to exhibiting art in Jersey City, she has also exhibited in New York City, California, and Texas and has sold works internationally. She was also featured as the cover artist for the 2014 Spring/Summer issue of JCI magazine.
“It has been an interesting 10 years,” said Hester, who attended school for photography and worked in the business for eight years. She added, “I wanted to be a successful photographer and if you had gone back eleven years ago and would have told me that I would be known as the tape girl I would have had no idea what you were talking about. This all happened by total accident and it is grueling sometimes. My back hurts, my neck hurts being hunched over for twelve hours a day sometimes. Just when I think this is it, this is my last show I can’t do this anymore I’ll get another big offer for a big show or something that I do not want to say no to and it starts all over again. It is hard and there are times when I do not know how much longer I can do this. But I do love it and it all pays off in the end.” For more information on Kayt Hester and her art, visit kaythester.com.
“Kayt Hester: 10 Years of Masking Tape” will be on view from August 4 – 30 at LITM, 140 Newark Avenue. The opening reception will be held on Tuesday, August 4 at 7:00 pm. Music by DJ Dancing Tony. Admission is free. For more information, visit litm.com.
Photos by Stephanie Romano unless otherwise noted
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