The most anticipated August art event in Jersey City is the annual summer solo-show by Kayt Hester, one of the most original artists to emerge out of the Jersey City art scene. Kayt was one of the first Dislocations about Jersey City Art, and three years ago played with perceptions with a clever window exhibition.
Group shows and solo gallery exhibitions feature Hester’s distinctive tape-creations throughout the year, earning her a following that now includes New York City and Philadelphia, but for her hometown crowd, summer cannot conclude in New Jersey’s 2nd largest city – which possesses one of the fastest growing communities of artists in the United States – until Hester showcases her latest creations.
The 17 Year Cicada – New Art Work by Kayt Hester – opened August 24th at Port- O Lounge, one of the handful of downtown Jersey City restaurants/art galleries that, by presenting to new audiences, up& coming and established local artists, are transforming the New York Metropolitan area Art World. As the title of the exhibition suggests, this edition of the yearly Hester Summer Showcase coalesces around the theme of Magicada Cicadas – the species of cicadas that only appear every 17 years.
Dozens of friends, followers and denizens of the downtown scene made their appearances to connect with Kayt, and see her latest iterations, which ranged from near obsessive explorations of the magicada to young woman, clad in weather-appropriate garments, sometimes wistful, sometimes playful.
The 17 Year Cicada, a Sirelo Entertainment curated production and her first exhibition at the Port-O Lounge gallery, includes a selection of art suggesting summer scenarios – a scantily clad Kate Moss (a doppelganger study of the super-model that requires double canvases); – but the bulk of the show features Magicada-inspired images – from detailed portraits of the famed summer flying insect to more subtle portrayals: a woman enjoying a cup of tea against a web-like background that, gradually to the viewer, becomes apparent, is a Magicada wing.
Cicadas, with their bulbous-shaped heads and translucent wings, emit an eerie techno-like drone – in reality, the mating call of male cicadas – and like ice-cold lemonade, sweltering humidity, and driving down the shore, these seasonal sonics instantly signify summer. “I love summer, it’s my favorite season,” admits the artist. “I love the hot weather, the sounds and taste and feel of summer. I love fresh fruits and vegetables. I love working in my garden. The sound of cicadas are summer, you hear their sound and you know it’s summer. You only hear and see them during the summer. I loved summer as a kid and everything about summer reminds me of when I was a child.”
Hester grew up in Flemington, a town located in a semi-rural stretch of central Jersey near the Pennsylvania border and such bucolic enclaves as New Hope and Yardley. When summer arrived in these hills and forests in all her glory, like nature’s own symphony, the mating call of cicadas echoed. Hester has a particularly vivid memory of a childhood summer, when, like now in 2013, the Magicadas once again materialized after their more than decade and a half gestation.
“They seemed to swarm and they were loud too, it was almost scary,” she remembers. “And then they were dead, but their shells were everywhere, like hatched eggs. I remember some kids collected the cicada shells, kept them in big jars. They looked different than the usual cicadas.”
Late in the spring, when the news media reminded everyone about the 2013 return of the Magicada, a flood of childhood summer memories made the artist realize she had discovered a fresh muse. “The cicadas that are babies this year, the next time we see them they’re going to be old enough to drive.”
The 17 Year Cicada, a self-curated production and her first exhibition at the Port-O Lounge gallery, includes a selection of art suggesting summer scenarios – a woman in a 50s-style 2-piece, floral-print bathing suit; a scantily clad Kate Moss (a doppelganger study of the super-model that requires double canvases); men playing chess on the hood of a car – but the bulk of the show features Magicada-inspired images – from detailed portraits of the famed summer flying insect to more subtle portrayals: a woman enjoying a cup of tea against a web-like background that, gradually to the viewer, becomes apparent, is a Magicada wing.
While a gigantic insect wing juxtaposed behind an otherwise unadorned domestic scene is a surrealistic touch Hester can be prone to, for the most part her depictions are realistic – direct and honest, playful yet moving. At first glance, her stark, expressive lines appear to be thick black ink on white. But the reality is she works in black tape. Her art is also a craft, as akin to sculpture as it is to sketching. Her one-of-a kind pictures combine photo-realism with collage.
Each hand-crafted piece is the result of a labor-intensive process. Hester delicately tears tape into the details she envisions, meticulously accumulating by layer upon layer, the shards and fragments onto the canvas, until the image she desires is formed. Afterwards, she coats the surface with a varnish that permanently protects the picture. Earlier in the summer, when she began hearing about the 17-year return of the Magicada and pondering the themes of youth, bygone days and the passage of time they inspired, the cicada imagery started possessing her mind. Beginning in June and well into August – “and up to the very last minute,” she confesses – Hester created a series of Cicada pictures. “They’ve totally captured my imagination. Cicadas are beautiful and weird and can have so much meaning.”
Her more recent work also expands her use of texture and color. Augmenting her black masking tape are new, extraordinary details made of brightly colored, metallic tape. She also has incorporated embroidery to canvases, essentially embedding 21st century needlepoint within her tape illustrations. This mix of materials indicates a new direction for Hester, now embarked on a particularly productive career phase. “I’m very inspired right now, experimenting with new mediums. The ideas are coming very fast and I’m very excited to show these new pictures.”
She adds, “Ironically, while the 17-year cicadas are everywhere in the northeast, they are not really appearing in urban areas like Jersey City. I feel like I’m bringing to Jersey City the Magicadas we’re missing.”
The 17 Year Cicada – New Art Work by Kayt Hester opens August 24 at Port-O-Lounge in Jersey City runs August 24th – October 11th. The exhibition is a featured stop for the September 6th JC Fridays, Jersey City’s quarterly celebration of art and artists, and the Jersey City Artist Tour, October 4-5, the annual city-wide art and cultural festival