Jersey City Masking-Tape Artist Kayt Hester’s Latest Solo Show is Homage to the Pixies

Kayt Hester fell in love in 1989. And like all great love stories, the feeling was instantaneous. However, in this case, the object of her affection was not a person, but a band named the Pixies.

“I first heard the Pixies at my close friend’s house in 1989 — we were freshman in high school. Her older brother had Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa on vinyl. He played it for us and we fell in love. We would listen to it over and over,” says the Jersey City-based artist, who is known for her inventive work using masking tape. “Later that year, Doolittle came out and I remember riding my bike to the Flemington Mall to buy it on tape with my tip money from busing tables at the local pancake house.”

Twenty-two years have passed, but Hester’s love of the Pixies is as devoted as ever. LITM has organized Caribou, a solo exhibition of new work by Hester — all of it inspired by the Pixies — which opens this Tuesday, August 2 at 7 pm. We recently caught up with Hester as she made some final preparations for her new exhibition.

FEATURED IN CARIBOU:


When did you begin to paint and draw?

When I was really young. I always loved to draw and paint. I wrote and illustrated my first book in 1983, The Muffin People, which was a blatant rip off of Strawberry Shortcake.

The Muffin People is a foreboding title, much more so than Strawberry Shortcake. Do you still have the book in your possession?

I do have it in storage. I let my teacher keep it as a gift because I was so fond of her. A few years ago she tracked me down and sent it to me. It was so great of her to do that and great to see that little book again.

When did you start using tape in your art? How did this come about?

I had a lot of the black darkroom masking tape laying around. During a period of time when I was not working so much, around 2004, I picked it up and started to rip it up and “draw” with it. I started off taping on vellum, so that light would show through it, creating a kind of stained glass effect.

I would recreate fashion shots from my photo days, or photos out of magazines. It was difficult to make it last a long time on the vellum, and it would peel off and get cat fur stuck to it. Putting it in a frame was a solution, but then light couldn’t show through it. Lightboxes were complex, and the heat was not kind to the tape. So I just junked the whole translucency concept and moved onto canvas. Once I got into my first group show with it in 2005 and sold some work, I was hooked. I never stopped.

You’ve got to go where the money is. I am glad you brought up art and sales. How do you price your work? Is the ephemeral nature of tape an issue for you when you determine the monetary value of one of your works on canvas?

It is difficult to say. If a work is very simple and did not take me long to do, I try to keep it affordable. But if a work took forever and was difficult and drove me crazy, then I will try to charge a more appropriate price for the time and effort it took me. Smaller pieces often are much harder and take longer than some larger pieces, because working with teeny-tiny masking tape bits can be maddening. I just finished an Eiffel Tower that drove me crazy; so many tiny little pieces of tape! But no one wants to pay too much for something tiny, so I have to keep that in mind when creating the work. I have to go with what my gut says. It also depends on what percentage the gallery takes from me, which varies from gallery to gallery.

Let’s discuss your upcoming show at LITM. This is your second solo show at LITM, and the fifth time you’ve shown your work in the space. How did the relationship develop between LITM and you?

Well, I credit owner Jelynne Jardiniano, for encouraging me to take the tape art seriously and to make more of it, which I did. She then put me in my first group show at LITM and it started everything. Plus I love that place; its gorgeous, I’m hooked on the nachos, and I love everyone who works there. It’s my favorite place in Jersey City besides my house.

As I understand it, the work in this show is an homage to the Pixies. What’s this about? Why make art in honor of the Pixies, and why now?

I have loved the Pixies strongly since I first heard Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim in 1991. Some sort of tribute or a “thank you” to them was long overdue. I named my cat Pixie and although she is an amazingly sweet little tribute, it is not enough.

I wanted to tape down the images that roll thru my mind when the songs come on. It has been a concept I have been kicking around for a long time, but was always nervous about doing it. People are very attached to their music and it is very personal, no matter what band it is. Its intimate for me, as the artist, to show how certain songs make me think or feel, and it is the same for other lovers of the music who are viewing it, who may feel the same or totally different about it. It could be emotional if a viewer doesn’t like the way I represented their favorite song.

It’s kind of a nerve-wracking concept. Last year my show at LITM was all about summer and summer fun. It was a concept that was easy to nail down and make images about summer that everybody would enjoy. This is more challenging, less safe. I guess I wanted, and needed, that challenge.

Why name the show after “Caribou” and not some other Pixie song?

Because it’s my favorite song. I think its one of their most beautiful songs, the tune, the way Frank Black sings it, and the lyrics are beautiful. I relate strongly to the lyrics, “I live cement, I hate this street, give dirt to me.”

I wish I lived in the country or by the ocean … a house, a car, a job that can pay for those things, it all seems impossible to attain. Some days I feel very chained to the city. Of course there are good things about it too, but I do prefer the country or the sea. I’ve read the song is about reincarnation, another concept I like. A brand new start. A second chance.

Much of your work is figurative, focusing on portraiture — Jackie O, Virgin Mother, LBJ, among others. What made you take a leap into text-based work?

I wanted to get a little more conceptual and make the pictures that were swimming around in my head as opposed to recreating icons and historical scenes like the LBJ inauguration. It was time for me to go a little further out there into interpretation, as opposed to recreation.

Is text part of the work to be shown at LITM?

There will be lyrics in tape, but not on the actual works or canvas. They will be next to the work separately.

Oh, the text will be installed directly on the walls of LITM?

No, I’m too nervous about wrecking the paint and the walls. They will be neatly sliced pieces of foamcore board.

Do you plan to play the Pixies during the opening reception? Have you considered reaching out to Kim Deal or Frank Black?

Yes; DJ Dancing Tony will be playing lots of Pixies and Pixies cover tunes, along with music by the individual musicians like Frank Black and the Catholics and The Breeders.

I would be rather excited to have Pixies members know of the show. I have no idea how I would find them and I would be nervous to bother them. They are planning a tour and a new record, from what I have read. I posted it on their Facebook fan page wall and that’s all I have time to do for now, but I would love for them to see the show.

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Brendan Carroll

an artist and a writer. In 2006, he cofounded Agitators Collective, which creates site-related installations in urban locales that have fallen into neglect or dereliction. He has exhibited his work at a number of museums and galleries in New York and New Jersey, and his work has been featured in several periodicals, including The New York Times, Village Voice, Art Fag City and Time Out New York. Find him online at brendanscottcarroll.com.