Catching Up with Jersey City Artist Kayt Hester
When I say “masking tape” what comes to mind?
Probably minor household fixes, a dusty roll that’s been sitting in your glove compartment for far too long, or that crack in your gutter that needs a temporary fix.
I’m gonna go ahead and guess that you don’t think “jaw dropping artwork,” right?
If you’ve lived in the area for any amount time, you’ve surely seen work by artist Kayt Hester hanging on the walls of area galleries, bars, and restaurants. And, if you’re like me, you probably didn’t notice what you were seeing at first glance. Sure, the image was apparent — the form of a woman, a man, a bird, or something else so familiar to us. But once you got closer to one of Hester’s pieces, you noticed something quite different about her artwork. You noticed that this wonderful image was made entirely with masking tape. No paint. No pen. No ink or graphics. Simply tape.
As Hester creates her pieces, thick, clumsy strips of tape become wistful smiles, loving embraces, and seductive legs, eyes, or lips. She turns a most benign and utilitarian tool into a singular medium.
I once was lucky enough to watch Hester work. I was helping to set up a New Year’s Eve party at 58 Gallery several years ago when Kayt showed up, roll of tape in hand, prepared to festoon the Gallery’s back room with custom works to help ring in the new year.
I was blown away by the deftness of her hand and the skill of her application. Pieces of tape were torn from the roll, seemingly arbitrarily, and then stuck to the wall with such precision that before my eyes grew an amazing, vivid, and completely one-of-a-kind piece of art.
I recently spoke with the singular artist about her art, influences, and surroundings. Her next solo show opens this August at LITM in Downtown Jersey City.
Without naming your preferred materials, how would you describe your art?
KH: Without saying what I use, I would describe it as bold black lines with an occasional use of color, forming either very simple or very complex images.
What is it about your medium that drew you to it? It’s so unique.
KH: I have always messed around with different mediums and was always considered a “mixed media” artist. I had lots of black darkroom tape around and started messing around with it. The success I had with it was almost instant, so that really helped me to fully commit to this, and it just kept going.
How long have you been working with tape? Did you come up in any other disciplines?
KH: I officially put down most other mediums in 2005. I went to college at FIT for photography. I had a really successful 8 year long photo career, actually, as a still life photographer for catalogs and a publishing house. Great pay and benefits, but I was totally miserable, stressed out, and just a rotten person. I quit and never looked back.
What is your favorite medium other than tape?
KH: I guess I would say photography. I’m a horrible painter.
Do you still work with that?
KH: Yes! Every day. Though I will often do renderings of historic photos and famous people, I do like using my own photos to work with the most.
What do you listen to while you work?
KH: Pixies / Frank Black / Black Francis. Whatever it is about the voice, the pace, the moods, the stories, it all gets my brain exactly where it needs to be to shut everything out and rip up pieces of tape for hours. It works every time, so I don’t mess with what works.
If you could collaborate with one local artist and one world renowned artist, alive or dead, who would they be?
KH: Locally, I would say Beth Achenbach or David Dziemian. They are both very good at what they do, as well as fantastic people to be around. Beth and I have been talking about collaborating on something for a while now but never seem to have the time. Hopefully this year!
Famous artist, that’s more difficult. My very favorite is Andy Goldsworthy, but I’m not sure how he would feel about the tape since he uses natural objects.
As someone who seems to value craft so highly, what are your thoughts on modern and contemporary art?
KH: I don’t know if my art education is thorough enough to give an intelligent sounding answer to this. I do need to get to the galleries in the city more and get to far more shows than I attend. I know very little as to what’s going on in modern and contemporary art. With that said, I appreciate seeing when an artist has really thought out an idea and worked hard on creating it. I value the labor behind good art. I like knowing time and genuine soul and effort is behind it.
If you had to move somewhere tomorrow, where would you go?
KH: I’d love to live anywhere near a beach that is warm and sunny, or in the countryside. Somewhere you could put out a bird feeder and see actual different birds and not just pigeons.
How does this town influence what do you do?
KH: Well, since the very start of this whole masking tape thing, Jersey City has been very, very good to me. It’s been nothing but full blown support from the art community and any local business I wanted to show some art in. I do feel that because of that, I have kept going, and I do try to make each show better than the last. In that way, Jersey City keeps me pushing myself and working harder.
What do you miss about the “old” Hudson county?
KH: I moved back to Jersey City in 2002. Other than a few galleries that came and went, not so much has changed that I am aware of. There are more people in Jersey City now, but I don’t mind that too much, because it’s more faces at local shows and more art sales. I miss being able to find an amazing apartment at a reasonable price. That seems to be vanishing quickly.
Where do you see this area in five years?
KH: Fancy. I see it getting fancy and expensive. I only hope I can still afford to live here.
What brought you here?
KH: It was close to NYC, and at the time I was still a working photographer.
What keeps you here?
KH: Happiness and love. I’m very happy here. Life is good here.