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Kevin Lustik spends his days rushing to meet tight deadlines at a large New York law firm. When he gets home he slows down with needlework. “I love the repetition of this work. Pull the needle up through the canvas, then back down through the canvas, up then down, up then down. It’s soothing. I also decided to add materials other than yarn and thread, such as beads, buttons, needles, and my favorite element, wit,” he says. Now his work is being exhibited at Port Authority until the end of January 2022. Here’s Kevin’s West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born in Joliet, Illinois, and moved to New York City in December of 1993.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
My partner and I moved to Hell’s Kitchen in 2009. We found a nice place at The Armory and grabbed it.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
The location! It’s near where I work. All the trains stop here. It’s the epicenter of the world.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
Our living room faces 42nd Street, so it can get noisy.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time?
We stayed put because we had nowhere else to go.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
The entire time I worked at the law firm Skadden Arps. Still do.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I learned that I disliked working from home. I love going into the office each day. That’s very important for my mental health.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
How did you start creating your art?
After I graduated from college and used my brain for four solid years, I wanted to do something with my hands. I started making quilts, but those take up a lot of space. At a store one day, I stumbled upon a needlepoint kit which is akin to color by numbers. Put the blue yarn here. Put the yellow yarn there. I did several of those and eventually grew bored. I thought, why not create my own designs? And after years, then decades, I created a full body of work.
I also decided to add materials other than yarn and thread, such as beads, buttons, needles, and my favorite element, wit. An example of that would be my Unraveling Cassette Tape. I also realized that I didn’t have to keep my work inside the frame. I could be playful.
And with my artwork, I could also convey a serious message, such as my Pink Triangles piece. During the Holocaust, gay prisoners were forced to wear pink triangles. I created a technique where I sewed into a photograph. [Kevin was awarded joint first place in the American Art Awards in the Manipulated Figure Photography category for this piece.]
I showed my artwork to family and friends, and they had a positive reaction to it, so I thought maybe others might too. I wanted to display my pieces around the city but where? I love the New York Public Library system, and in several of the branches, I noticed glass cases and cabinets near the check-out desk, so the patrons would pass by and see my work. In 2015, I started contacting branch managers around Manhattan, emailing them examples of my stitchery. I told them I’d do all the setting up and taking down. They really came through for me. I’ve exhibited at about 15 different branches.
I’ve also exhibited at The Leslie-Lohman Project Space, ChaShaMa, and the Garment District Alliance. My contact at the Garment Alliance suggested I contact Myron Johnson at Port Authority, and that’s where my work is now.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
I used to collect autographs at the Broadway stage doors, so I met many celebrities: Carol Burnett, Lauren Bacall, Nathan Lane, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman… the list goes on.
What’s your superpower?
Sewing. When I am sewing, I sometimes play music (1970s easy-listening and Broadway are my two favorites). Or sometimes I watch mindless television (it can’t be anything that requires too much concentration because I need to focus on my canvas). And sometimes, I enjoy silence.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
I don’t sing in the shower. In fact, I have no musical talent whatsoever.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
It’s by Sondheim: “Look I made a hat where there never was a hat.” I think of that lyric from Sunday in the Park with George every time I sew an image onto cloth.
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
Love it — because of the bustle and action.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
Yes. It used to be Skid Row, but just look at it now. It’s blossomed!
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Market Diner and Theatre Row Diner. I miss them both.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
I currently have a needlepoint art exhibit, In Stitches. on view through January 2022 at Port Authority south building. Enter on 9th Avenue, go up the stairs, and you will find my art in two large glass cases on the right-hand side.
You can also check out my art on Instagram @lustikart
Kevin’s Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Hardware Bar: I love their Broadway Mondays.
Westway Diner: Good food. Good prices.
The Highline: Because it’s so unique. I always take my out-of-town guests there.
Chez Josephine: Good food. And I enjoy the piano players.
Theatre Row, Playwrights Horizons, and Signature Theatre: I actually prefer Off-Broadway to Broadway. It’s more experimental and interesting. And these three theater companies are all excellent and conveniently located.
The Hudson River Walk: Because it’s scenic.
Jadite Galleries Custom Framing: They do all my framing, and they do an outstanding job.