On a windy, sunny Tuesday, curious locals and the neighborhood’s ever-present pigeons looked on as Hell’s Kitchen-raised street artist Hektad brought new life to the oft-painted vacant walls of a long-shuttered Starbucks on the corner of W47th Street and 9th Avenue.
Now covered in cheery, multicolored hearts — part of Hektad’s signature May the Love Be With You series — the corner is noticeably brighter after months of less-inspired tagging and ads plastered on the building. “I’ve been wanting to paint this wall for years,” said Hektad as he covered the heavily tagged wall with white paint.
The new work also includes a Banksy-esque little girl sitting with a heart and the words “I Choose Love”. The artist’s work has been compared to the elusive British street artist — and he was nicknamed the “Bronx Banksy” by Dan’s Paper this year.
“Whenever I paint, it’s for the people, It’s never for me,” Hektad has said in interviews about his work.” He added, “I always paint for the people, because you never know what a person’s thinking about. I get so many letters from people that say ‘you made my day’, ‘I fell in love because of your mural,’ ‘I felt like killing myself that day, and your mural opened up another side of me,’ — it’s amazing. So whenever I paint the street, it’s always for the people, not for me.”
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The Bronx-born artist — whose moniker Hektad is a combination of the tag “HEK” and the phrase “They Always Destroy”, has been a prominent figure in the street art scene since 1981. He told lifestyle reporter Just Ask Christine that from a young age he would look out at the graffiti surrounding his neighborhood. “I knew right away what I wanted to do with my life.” A graduate of the High School of Art and Design in Midtown — in Hektad’s words, “an underfunded public school” — the high school was also home to the likes of well-known graffiti artists Tracy168, Fab Five Freddy, George Lee Quiñones, Lady Pink and Mare139.
How long Hektad’s work will remain on W47th remains to be seen. Much-loved Captain Eyeliner mural tributes to both Dolly Parton and Betty White on the same corner were eventually tagged over, although nearby neighborhood murals at Back Pocket Bar, Sesamo and near Hudson Yards are still holding strong.
But for now, Hell’s Kitchen residents like Chris Lebrón are enjoying the view. “When I walked out to 9th Avenue this afternoon and saw MORE white washing on that building I thought ‘Great, more Same Old Shit,’” he said. “Then I realized it was a childhood friend from 47th Street and I was relieved. I’ve known Hektad forever, if there is anyone more appropriate to beautify or address a problem in Hell’s Kitchen, it is someone from Hell’s Kitchen.”
Keep a watching eye on the corner of W49th Street and 9th Avenue on Saturday, Hektad told us he will be creating another mural on the wall next to Duane Reade this weekend!