An Interview with Street Artist Jeremy Novy

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In preparation for tonight’s event, #REPRISE at the W Hotel, we sat down with street artist Jeremy Novy to chat art, culture, and its influence on social norms . Recognized for his stencil series, Novy’s trademark koi fish have been seen in many cities across the United States. Seemingly simple in their style and composition, the koi fish represent something much more complex. Under the guise of a gentle and straightforward image lies a deeper anti-authoritarian message. Known for his honest examinations of society, Novy isn’t afraid to confront and showcase topics that some might deem controversial. A champion of gay iconography, he publicly and proudly sheds light on often underrepresented subjects and pioneers the way for greater acceptance in not just the art industry, but the entire world.

You mention ancient and contemporary Chinese culture as a key source of inspiration for your stenciled koi - specifically noting the Communist belief in destroying the past to make way for the new. How do these beliefs influence your work?

My art, at times, seems to be about preserving the past or educating the audience on the past. I use images that are visually appealing but also have a hidden iconography. In the case of the koi, they talk about the Communist control to destroy everything from the past to make way for the future. They could not have any written text on the meaning of the Chinese lucky numbers so they devised a plan to hid the meaning of the lucky numbers in the number of koi in a scroll painting as well as its title. In the lobby art pieces we see five koi. This depicts the transformation of an emperor coming from peasantry and walking through five gates before finally reaching the forbidden city and becoming emperor.  

Your work is found on streets across North America - is there a strategy behind disseminating your art in such a raw and public way? As opposed to strictly curated behind gallery doors?

I am a street artist. Street art is different than murals as it’s usually illegal and pushes the boundaries of what art is and where art can be shown. Painting outside of the galleries allows for 100% of the demographic to see and experience the art, whereas galleries and museums become a place only [seen by] the educated and wealthy.

What is your process behind choosing where your next piece will be? Are the locations calculated or spontaneous?

I am trying to paint as many cities as possible and just last week painted four Midwest states in seven days. I often choose places with high visibility and try to create a still life on the street for passerbyers to stop and take a breath while contemplating where the koi came from and what they possibly mean.

Some may consider your past use of queer themes and gay iconography in public spaces as controversial. How do you hope to affect the culture of street art by highlighting such subjects?

Graffiti and street art culture is filled with homophobia and even misogyny - it’s totally okay to sexually objectify a women on the wall with no shirt and breasts exposed, yet to have a shirtless man in a leather vest is too offensive for sensitive graffiti artists? So, for me to do a stencil of a drag queen or a leather man is complete anarchy to the system.


Lastly, you mention the multiplicity of modern identity - what do you believe are the major factors and/or obstacles in developing an identity in today's world? And how have these affected your identity as an artist?

As a person who travels a lot and finds myself in different social settings and social upbringings, I find it important to think of multiplicity as how your art will be seen and viewed differently depending on where it is in the world. I personally find it interesting to see how in one part of the country it is bad to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, yet anywhere other than California it is illegal to do a rolling stop. There are several other examples of how our social environment and upbringing has made us who were are today. It doesn’t mean one person is right and the other is wrong. It just means we need to learn to understand one’s differences as a possibility of how to live instead of thinking it is wrong to do [things] how we were raised. I’m not sure how to express this idea in art but one day I hope to find a better understanding of humanity and express it to the world.


If you haven’t already, register here for #REPRISE at the W Hotel to join the festivities celebrating the launch of Jeremy’s newest mural!


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