A Movement Defaced: Queer Street Art Fights for Legitimacy

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Cover photo by Michael Cuffe/Warholian.

Inside his art studio in San Francisco's Bayview District, Jeremy Novy surrounds himself with the stencilwork that has burnished his reputation as a street artist of note. Of course, the koi are there. Even people who don't know his name know his aquatic vertebrates — colorful creatures that can be found on sidewalks across San Francisco, most prominently at Market and Laguna streets, where scores of the fish swirl outside the Orbit Room. In Novy's studio, though, the animals are crowded out by representations of people. Men, mostly. Queer men like the drag queen with the yellow beehive and bright red panties, and the young wrestlers grabbing each other's flesh. Then there's the stencil of a big pink erect phallus.

"That's my cock," Novy says matter-of-factly.

The stylized erection has appeared on walls inside select San Francisco venues like the Stud, a gay South of Market bar at Ninth and Harrison streets, but Novy has a greater mission: to make queer-oriented street art and artists more visible. The mainstream, as it were.

"Queer street art has always been an oppressed art form," he says. "We are not taggers. We're street artists. This is for social change. It's about doing something better."

A sign of Novy's growing influence: A new exhibit he organized and curated received indirect funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the San Francisco Arts Commission. "A History of Queer Street Art," on display through June 25 at SOMArts, features gay, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and a few straight street artists from around the world who — like Novy — are plastering public spaces with in-your-face imagery with overt gay or queer themes. The Los Angeles artist Homo Riot, for example, is known for his stencils of kissing bearded men.

These artists — most in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s — claim to be at the forefront of a new street-art movement that is centered in metropolitan areas in Europe and the United States, including San Francisco. Their work, they say, is fighting homophobia.

"I'm really doing it to communicate, predominantly with gay men, that we're out there and we can be bold and we can be visible, and that's okay, and that's a good thing," says Homo Riot, who signs his work with the moniker B A Homo. He also argues that his work carries a message to heterosexuals: "Don't take us for granted. Don't belittle us. We're out here, and we could be on your street corner, and we're about this far from taking to the streets and causing trouble."

"Trouble" is what authorities say these artists are already causing. "The official position of the Arts Commission is that we're against tagging and the placing of artwork on surfaces without the permission of the property owner," says Luis Cancel, the commission's director of cultural affairs and a former director of the Bronx Museum of the Arts. "We don't condone this at all." He says millions of dollars are spent every year to rid city properties of graffiti, tags, and other unwelcome additions.

But the artists in "A History of Queer Street Art" can say their work is both legal and illegal. Novy puts his art legally on some city spaces (such as the Orbit Room) and illegally on other spaces (as a SOMA billboard that months ago was stenciled with Novy's bodybuilders). The artists say their illegal work is necessary to make their message visible to a wider audience.

The show at SOMArts is part of this wider campaign, but the Arts Commission does not necessarily condone Novy's exhibition, whose racier images include a sticker in the style of a street sign showing a man giving a rim job. The Arts Commission awarded monies to San Francisco's Queer Cultural Center for its "Creating Queer Community" campaign; in turn, the center funded Novy's exhibit, which opened June 4 as part of its annual National Queer Arts Festival. The center also supported the exhibition through a portion of a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — an agency with a history of art-funding controversies. Whether "A History of Queer Street Art" will number among these remains to be seen.


Street art is dominated by straight men," says Homo Riot, who came to San Francisco in January to festoon the Haight and Castro districts with stickers of his bearded kissers. "There's a lot of misogynistic stuff that passes for street art. There are images of women in provocative setups; there's tits and ass all over. As a gay man, and even as a young boy, I wanted to see images of men. That's what I was attracted to. But in our culture, we have such taboo surrounding the penis and male sexuality that's not directed at women."

That taboo is evident when Homo Riot puts up his stencils in popular L.A. street-art spaces and within hours sees his work violently defaced. He says the attacks happen to a small but significant portion of his work. The men's faces get Xed out or scratched off — which is hard to do, since he uses a special paste that adheres the work tightly. Still, he says, some straight street artists have given him "support and encouragement," even lauding his kissing figures, who go by the name Homo Duo.

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37 comments
Smartie
Smartie

A Bowel Movement Defaced...There seems to be some fracas involving the wretched Diamonda Galas for reasons I can't fathom. Here's the truth... Novy was discovered prancing nude at a radical faerie gathering two summers ago. It's no secret that all kinds of drug use is rampant at these "retreats". He was spray painting rusted cars in the middle of the woods and befriended a fetish pornographer from San Francisco. He was invited to stay indefinitely in a Victorian home in the Castro,( with sexual strings attached! ). If any of you out there has ever been involved in a "threesome" you will know that these situations rarely work..Eventually Novy was told to vacate when they got tired of him. Jeremy thought he had it made in the shade until the pervy pornographers started bickering and the drug use escalated. I feel somewhat sorry for Novy, only because he was a homeless young man who had fled his awful life in Milwaulkee, only to be used and abused by two rimseat riders...It's no wonder Novy thinks the gays are out to get him. There is, however no excuse for the terrible stenciling of the neighborhood. It's really rotten.

Pants
Pants

The wretched diamanda galas has apparently been stalking some model or actress all over the web like fatal attraction. Re Jeremy well you know what they say about opinions. I don't see the graffiti as art but whatever. I vote send them together to a deserted island with a case of spray paint.

Smartie
Smartie

Yeah, Pants. Whatever. I'm so glad I left the "whatever" city of San Fagcisco. Fuck you too.

zovannee1
zovannee1

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Topshoppop
Topshoppop

What a joke. this exhibition called "The History of Street Art" should be called "The History of marginal street art from San Fransisco". It features dumb art like HOMO RIOT which there is nothing shocking about and barely mentions the many great gay street artist like Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring, PrvtDncr and Bodega Vendetta. And i love the ThierryP meth comments, that explains everything.

prvtdncr
prvtdncr

thanks. prvtdncr and bodega vendetta are in the exhibition and proudly so. we also own the streets of LA right now with major pieces up all over glitter town.

ThierryP
ThierryP

Novy is a heavy user of substances. Having talked to him in person, my guess is that it's meth. There is no way that he's just "hyper" or whatever. He's high and that's his problem. People in the art community continually try to work with him, but his out of control drug and other problems get him kicked out of galleries. People are extremely welcoming to street art in this town, but someone as difficult as Jeremy is going to have problems and is has absolutely nothing to do with being gay or gay imagery.

jhum
jhum

I've been in the Bay Area for 20 years- I've never seen anyone in SF ever use homophobic terms or imagery when referring to queer artists. It seems instead the real conflict Jeremy has is with people within the gay community first.And really it all comes down to Jeremy, I hope he seeks resolution to his personal conflicts.The koi remind me of being serene and that is a good place to start.

Morettiontario
Morettiontario

These comments are horrible and violent. Critique the art, okay fair enough but these comments underneath are just as filled with violence and childish insults as everything Novy is accused of. Ever heard of an intelligent critique? Sounds like it's the same person or persons with an agenda posting under different names. I find it hard to believe so many people with such low IQs would all show up at the same place and repeat the same type of violent and inflated rhetoric.

Buzz
Buzz

I agree that there's an agenda at work here. Novy has clearly pissed off some people, and apparently he has personal problems. But so do lots of people, yet most San Franciscans do not advocate violence and post disturbing, threatening comments about someone simply because they don't like his art. Many of the posts here are among the most aggressively hateful I've ever read anywhere. Frankly, the people posting them sound deeply troubled. Calling for someone's death because you don't like his art or think he's a jerk? That's just awful.

Smartie
Smartie

"Novy's exhibition, whose racier images include a sticker in the style of a street sign showing a man giving a rim job." ....wonderful Jeremy. Did you do this one while you were living with those penny-pinching fetish queens and vile pornographers on 18th Street while positioned beneath their D.I.Y. toilet seat with screwed-on wooden legs? Tacky Tacky Tacky.

Smartie
Smartie

You can't "critique" these stencils INTELLIGENTLY, Morettiontario, because they lack substance- he is all about pandering to the gays. Jeremy Novy is a very deluded individual. And, his horrendous behavior has had the locals on edge for some time now. He deserves to be called out on his violent psychotic rages. He is paranoid and out of his mind when he claims that "street artists" (vandals) are targets of homophobes. I don't think you have a very high IQ, if you call this type of imagery ART. Families live around here too, and it just looks like trashy smut to me. And what on earth is "inflated rhetoric" is that something you blow up like a beach ball?

jhum
jhum

Actually, the B.A.R. is huge in our community. I really do believe The community has an awareness of this ongoing story of Jeremy Novy. It does seem more likely that these comments are from more than one person. This article in the Weekly is but one venue of many given to Mr. Novy's work.

Kernunnos
Kernunnos

What a sham for an artist! This empty, shallow, methed up, violent, erratic, psychotic UN-ARTIST should go ahead and stencil his ugly fucking mug at the bottom of every septic tank in existence. What a vainglorious piece of rat shit. I am amazed that anyone would want to hear ANYTHING from him, about him, or pertaining to him.... except maybe an execution shot, let alone feature him in ANY article. Disgusting. When he is thrown under the prison soon, nobody will remember his name, or anything about him. Especially his atrocious "ART?" He will just be getting his shit-hole "stenciled" with more dicks than he's sucked, fucked, or drawn in his life. Well fuck....that's probably this fuck-up's idea of "Heaven". He has never, is not, or will ever do anything positive for Gay Rights.

Byron D
Byron D

I can't help but feel like this guy is completely self-serving, under the guise of serving the queer art community.On the one hand he's saying these artists deserve a voice (which, granted, they DO), and face this struggle, or that struggle. Meanwhile he's embroiled in mud-slinging at JIM PROVENZANO of all people?! It feels like Novy is trying to leap-frog off Jim's name in any way he can to draw the attention (and a greater audience) to himself. After digging around a bit I find more and more information which indicates Novy is a truly sad candidate to be ANY sort of voice for the queer community.

Tari
Tari

Personally, I'm not qualified either way to make a judgement on the quality of Novy's Work, but this is info that find disturbing about anyone.

http://www.mijnkoivijver.nl/ni...

Sidewinder
Sidewinder

Jeremy Novy came to town....Caused TONS of chaos...and even "went brown"!!

Nobody likes this drug addict messwhere he will end up is anyone's guess

Paul R
Paul R

Jeremy showed his face in the Chronicle article about him a few months ago and has at various exhibits. I agree that some of his comments are stale or immature, but he definitely has talent. If he cleans up his personal life and commits himself to art, he'll produce even greater works. Comments calling him a piece of trash, mocking his physical traits, and wishing death on him are far worse than most of the comments here accuse him of being or doing.

But I guess you're all enabling him to achieve his goal: getting a response. And like most Internet trolls, you're vile people who lack talent and are jealous of anyone who have done things with their lives aside from insulting people anonymously, online. For example, I refuse to read a rant by someone who types in all caps (talk about the output of a child!) and takes the name of a famous woman who also provokes responses.

Tryharder11
Tryharder11

Hrm...these grapes are sour. You don't know anything about anyone who posts comments on this site, so next time please keep that in mind before rmeta-trolling. Thanks.

Everything I wrote came from a desire to see the Novy's rhetoric, along with the quality of his work, elevated. He should be thankful for the more constructive criticism he's receiving. Attention, negative or otherwise, is only going to take him so far.

mistersmith22
mistersmith22

Novy's entire shtick is built on the faulty premise that anyone is discriminating against him, or that anyone cares where he puts his penis when he's not making art. He points to Haring, so I'll reply: Novy, his sexuality wasn't mentioned because people are trying to hide it, it wasn't mentioned because nobody gives a damn. The same criteria applied to Haring that apply to every dude getting up in SF right now: is the stuff any good? Every time an author doesn't feel a need to say "oh by the way he was gay" is a victory for gay rights, not a slight against homosexuals. To think that San Francisco of all places needs a militant group of stencil artists to remind us gay people exist is emblematic of Novy's real issue: taking himself WAY too seriously.

WaffleBrains
WaffleBrains

I can't speak for the "street art community" but the graffiti community, by and large, embraces gay artists, such as DONDI and EARSNOT (both included in MOCA's current show). The fine art world also embraces the many gay fine artists. So either the "street art world" is particularly homo-phobic or maybe Novy is just not good.

Smartie
Smartie

Shocking that you'd place Novy's disguised face on the cover. He's a talentless methamphetamine addict who's twitching and tweeking for his next fix. It took him three years to make these shitty stencils? My god. And the asshole who did the bareback thing really needs to read a book. What on earth is the meaning of this? By the way the article failed to mention that Novy has a massive portwine stain worse than Gorby's. And his ears are peppered with warts the size of marbles. Diamanda, Jim Provenzano is a wuss not a "god" you must be on drugs too, I've heard your music. Novy is a homeless piece of trash who gives heteros reasons to hate gays. Cased closed, or is it? This article was far too long, and boring as well. If there is a god then Novy will just overdose and we can all breathe easier.

DIAMANDA GALAS
DIAMANDA GALAS

WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU NOVY NO TALENT INTESTINAL PARASITE, AND YOU,YOU CRAP SCHOLAR LEGIONNAIRE OF OBSEQUY, J CURIEL? DO YOU CONSIDER UGLY "NOBODY'S " PAPER DROPPINGSIN THE AGE OF PROTEASE INHIBITORS TO BE "ART?"HOW DARE YOU TARNISH THE NAMES OF THE KEITH HARING JIM PROVENZANO,BY CONTEXT, DAVID WOJNAROWICZ, AND ALL THE OTHER GREAT ARTISTS AND WRITERSWHO FOUGHT WHEN EVERYONE WAS_ DYING_, NOT "LIVING WITH THE DISEASE."

HOW DARE YOU NOT DEFEND PROVENZANO WHO IS AND WAS A GOD TO EVERYONEIN ACT UP, WHO DEFENDED THOSE WHO WERE BEATEN AND HOSPITALIZEDAND EXECUTED TO SERVICE THIS PERSON WHO IS _NOT_ AN ARTIST.DO YOU CONSIDER ANYTHING COMMITTED TO PAPER TO BE ART? DO I FUCKINGCARE IF IT THIS TROLL'S PENIS. ICK.

HEY CHECK IT OUT IDIOT. WOMEN ARE PART OF THE AIDS MOVEMENT TOO.SO GEE IF MISSY DON'T LIKE THEM TITTIES SMEARED ALL OVUH THEMTOTEM POLES, DON'T LOOK AT THEM. YOU DON'T LIKE SEEING TRANSSEX WITH MENNEITHER AM I RIGHT,LOW IQ?

FUCK YOU AND FUCK YOU FOR WHAT THIS GREAT NEWSPAPER HAS NOW BECOME.

AND DON'T BE SO COY ABOUT STALKERS. I HAVE HAD ONE, LIKE HIM, FORA YEAR AND THESE PEOPLE DESTROY YOUR LIVES. YOU THINK IT IS FUNNYDON'T YOU? YOU LIKE THE UNDERDOG? HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN HE IS A DOG.AND YOU HAVE TO PICK UP HIS SHIT ON THE STREET THAT YOU NOW CALLART? WE WERE ARRESTED FOR PUTTING UP REAL ART IN THE STREETSOF NYC WHEN IT WAS LIFE-SAVING AND THIS BITCH WHINES ABOUT WHAT?UGLY MARILYN DRAWINGS, OH LAWD. FREEDOM OF LEECH.

I AM SICK OF PEOPLE WHO ARE JEALOUS OF THOSE WHO HAVE BROKENTHEIR ASSES FOR FREEDOM FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. WHY DON'T YOU BE HONESTAND GO ON AMERICAN IDOL, HALFWIT? AND SING YOUR SAD SONG. IT IS NOTHERE IT IS NOT QUEER, IT IS JUST ELTON CRAWLING TO ANOTHER BLONDE GRAVE,ASS UP IN THE AIR, BEGGING FOR ANOTHER DIME UP HIS SLOT.

HERITAGE?OH YEAH, TELL ME ABOUT IT, OPPORTUNISTIC INFECTION. WERE YOU THERE WHEN HIV WAS A A DEATH SENTENCE WERE YOU THEREWHEN HCV WAS A DEATH SENTENCE. WE WERE. WE SURVIVED-- SOME OF US.

GET ON YOUR KNEES AND THANK JIM AND ALL THE REAL RADICALSYOU SELF-PROMOTING FAIRY.

DIAMANDA GALAS

Mike
Mike

What a stupid article. Keith Haring started the movement. You can't get much gayer than that. Good art is good art.

Sick of this garbage
Sick of this garbage

"we're about this far from taking to the streets and causing trouble."

No, dirtbag. You belong in the street and you are nothing but trouble.

Jokie X Wilson
Jokie X Wilson

Oh the horror vacui of it all!!! These old farts are defending something that existed thirty years ago. Grow up? I would say it's time for the nursing home! :-{D}

Robert in SF
Robert in SF

"We are not taggers. We're street artists. This is for social change."

Yeah. Nothing has the potential to change society like some fish stenciled on the sidewalk. [rolleyes]

"Their work, they say, is fighting homophobia....He also argues that his work carries a message to heterosexuals: 'Don't take us for granted. Don't belittle us. We're out here, and we could be on your street corner, and we're about this far from taking to the streets and causing trouble'."

Dude. Just stop. In the first place, your "message" is impotent; nothing of substance has ever been communicated through a medium as shallow as a stencil or a bumper sticker. And second, "causing trouble" doesn't usually work out too well for minorities. You're free to "take to the streets", and we're free to laugh at the attempt. Better yet: grow up and learn how to either enter into a mature dialectic about important issues, OR learn how to create art of substance. You can't do both at the same time without creating propaganda, and there's nothing more trite than propaganda.

Joshua Willis
Joshua Willis

I really couldn't care less what your sexual persuasion is, if you're going around painting giant peckers on the sides of buildings, you're a public nuisance. Get over yourself and grow up.

Guest
Guest

Yeah a giant pink penis (my cock) is a powerful message for socila message - get over yourself... ALL TAGGERS SUCK.

Fred
Fred

Craptastic!

SamHamwitch
SamHamwitch

Looking at the Warhol/Campbell's Soup rip, all I can think of is Mr. Brainwash in "Exit Through The Gift Shop." IOW, lazy appropriation that doesn't do the original idea any justice.

Novy's biggest crime is being boring.

Tryharder11
Tryharder11

I have to say I'm a bit off-put by the face-masking too. Voluntarily "closeting" himself by obscuring his face comes directly into conflict with the visibility he wants his work and message to attain. It drives the idea of "out" queerness as far back as some of the cliched imagery he uses. I understand it's what street artists do to avoid legal complications and that it's a gimmick which drives his critics crazy but I don't think he can preach about the honesty of his vision while attempting to dodge all the notoriety.

mostlysquirrel
mostlysquirrel

Problem with identity-oriented art is that participants spend more time cultivating their identity than the art.

If you are a "queer street artist" you need to step it up and show us why you think you can hold a candle to street art in general. This guy just doesn't cut it.

ThisisART?
ThisisART?

This guy is a danger to the community and those he targets. And his "graffiti" is not what I would consider art. My three year old niece and cut well enough to create the stencil and could probably even manage to use the spray paint without much difficulty. I also find it odd that he covers his face. Obviously, if he were proud of his "art" he'd not be hiding his face so as to not be identified

Tryharder11
Tryharder11

There's something special about Novy's koi fish; as a symbol of the artist himself, they celebrate his birthmark in a very poetic, simple way. However, the majority of the paste-ups I've seen him post around town are fraught with a total lack of critical thinking. Using Gautier bras, leather men and dicks to represent queerness as a whole is the height of navel gazing, especially in SF. Pretty much every other artist in this article is applying a more thoughtful approach to this well-trend subject matter. Haring was so great because he created a whole lexicon of imagery unique to himself, rather than merely reflecting a tired, antiquated pool of icons. Hopefully this exposure will lead Novy to a desperately needed conceptual evolution.

Maria
Maria

The guy's fish stenciles are kind of cool, but the minute he opens his mouth he just ruins it because his rhetoric is so tired and cliche.

 
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