DH: You’ve been doing street art for over two decades, what inspired you to start and what keeps you going?
JN: It was new. There weren’t YouTube videos showing you how to make a stencil, or even art shows dedicated completely to stencil art. I found a joy in it as a sort of art for art’s sake experience. People were making it and giving it to everyone to see. It changed the visual landscape that had been dominated by graphic design billboards and bus stop ads, into a new experience. Art becomes therapy at times to an onlooker. It’s why we go to museums, galleries, and sculpture parks. To have this visual experience of imagination. What keeps me going is when people thank me for brightening their day or being a memory from any North America city where you can find my art. Art is about sticking an emotion and the feedback strikes my drive.
DH: You’re openly gay in a predominantly heterosexual culture. Has this effected the way your art is viewed and accepted by your peers?
JN: Definitely. In the 2000’s people hadn’t begun to understand diversity and inclusion the same way they are starting to today. Fag had been written on my drag queen stencils by taggers, even in San Francisco, with its long queer history. Whenever I was invited to a show or asked to contribute to a magazine or book, they never wanted to show my queer imagery. Yes, they loved the koi. The koi have given me huge street cred and respect, but their admirers didn’t quite get the protests message I was presenting to the streets. I’m not going to call out any names. But there definitely were a handful of west coast artists at the time that didn’t like or understand my message. They hadn’t seen for years the removal of anything related to AIDS or being gay in books on Keith Haring’s art. They didn’t experience the lack of queer visibility in bus stop ads or billboard art the same way a queer person would. But after years of showing my devotion to the streets people have started to come around and give me respect through street cred- regardless of being openly gay.
DH: You’re best known for your Koi, but there’s much more to your art than the fish. Leather Guys, Drag Queens, Bear Traps, and Rainbow Care Bears are among some of your other works bringing LGBTQ imagery to the public. Why are these other stencil works important to you and ultimately street culture?
JN: Yeah, these images are about queer visibility and to protest the lack of queer representation in street culture. If you look around, you will see that murals are about empowering different groups of individuals through representation on the streets. They are used to brighten a neighborhood and bring a sense of community pride back to a specific areas in need. But there is a void when it comes to queer visibility in murals across the world. This is slowly changing but when I started, we didn’t even have rainbow crosswalks as a form of public art. We still have our queer murals rejected in the call for artist approval process of murals. It’s nice to see in recent years a few queer history murals popping up in major LGBTQ+ cities but we still don’t have them everywhere and queer people live everywhere. So, I find street art as the medium no one can’t stop through a community approval process. I can bring queer visibility to every corner of the world. You might look at my art as protest rather than art. I recently have started to think deeper on this subject. When Will and Grace first aired on public television in the late 90’s it brought queer visibility into every home across America. It had an impact on normalizing queer lifestyles through visibility. I think if we used murals to bring visibility to the Trans community, we could help fight transphobia.
DH: I first came across your Koi on a sidewalk in the French Quarter. Your Koi are well known in the graffiti scene worldwide. When did you first paint the fish, and what do they symbolize to you?
JN: In 2006 I had the opportunity to study abroad. I spent 3 months in China studying art and when I came back, I had to complete an assignment about what I had learned. On a bus ride to the Great Wall of China I was told a story by a Chinese art student from the Central Academy of Art in Beijing. During the cultural revolution the people of China were told to destroy everything from the old to make way for the new. This meant destroy ancient imperial history to make way for communism. So, an artist devised a plan to hide Chinese lucky numbers in a scroll paintings style that swept the country. The number of koi in a scroll painting and a specific name would connect to a different Chinese lucky number so the history was never lost. I found this a fascinating symbol of resistance and use the same number combinations in my koi. I also have a large birthmark on my forehead and find it interesting the birthmarks on koi make them more valuable rather than being seen as an imperfection as in humans.
DH: What inspired you to take your art to the streets instead of a gallery or commercial use?
JN: When I started out, I found stencil art to be a medium without many rules. Other art mediums had a long history that came with a set standard of what makes it art. Sculptures carry a long history that goes back to Greek and Roman masterpieces, painting, photography and even ceramics have similar ideals based on the history of the medium. But stencils were new, street art was new it was exciting to realize you could make more people see your art on the streets than by having it hung in a museum.
DH: Do you have any advice for young artist thinking of making a name for themselves as street artist?
JN: Do it out of a love of art for art’s sake. And don’t stop. Make art every day.
DH: Are there any street artists you look up to or that influenced you to start doing graffiti?
JN: If I answer with a film that first inspired me and then a book that drew me into street art, it might help explain my influences. I first was inspired by “Who is Bozo Texino?” a very awesome documentary on hobo graffiti and the artist that make it. Later I found the book “Trespassing: A history of Uncommissioned Urban Art”. Both showcase several artists past and present that I have drawn inspiration and motivation form.
DH: You’ve got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography. Do you shoot and if so what is your camera of choice?
JN: I’ve moved away from photography and have focused more on the creation of my art. When I started to become heavily involved in street art, I started to believe that the art itself was more important than the photo documentation.
DH: I first discovered your work in NOLA. From the oldest gay bar in the United Sates, to Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde, the French Quarter has always had an enchanting allure. What does the city mean to you?
JN: NOLA has this thing I call art electricity. It’s in the culture of the city. If you’re the least artistic person, it doesn’t matter once Mardi Gras season starts you will make a creative outfit. If you don’t know how to dance and you see a second line coming down the street, there is a likelihood you will dance. The city also has an old history of being created from pirates defending against the British, and whole neighborhoods spring up from red-light districts, it’s been a hangout for outcast and misfits for centuries. The sort of place artists definitely fit in.
DH: Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JN: Participate in life, contribute, and deviate from the norm.
For more on Jeremy Novy and his art click HERE.