The Man Behind Jersey City’s Fence Art Mystery

NJ Spotlight News | February 24, 2017 | Arts & Entertainment

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

If you pass a chain link fence in Jersey City, there’s a good chance you’ll see one or two or three. For the last few years, figures have popped up all around the city — playing baseball, riding a bike, dancing. Art installations created from fabric masterfully woven and tied onto metal. How do they get there? Meet Norman Kirby.

“People tend to drive by and say stuff too. … They’ll stop, they’ll drive by, they’ll pull over and they’ll ask me if I’m the one who does all of them and stuff like that, so it’s funny,” Kirby said. “I tell them yeah, it’s me. And they encourage me to keep going,” Kirby said.

On an unseasonably warm day in February, we meet at Mary Benson Park. It’s an optimal location.

“A corner spot tends to be good because of visibility. Usually there’s not cars parked at the corner of an intersection,” Kirby said.

Today, Kirby has a surprise audience of school kids. They love his work — it’s accessible. A few strips of fabric and a fence they see every day become a group of people playing — and it all happens in under an hour.

“It’s not as permanent as spray paint. I hope everybody likes the work, but if they don’t, they could easily take it off the fence. … I think a lot of people look at graffiti as something that can hurt a neighborhood. But, if artists think of other ways to express themselves outside, I think it could really transform a neighborhood,” Kirby said.

Kirby’s a working artist. He does this in his spare time — there’s no money in it. Just fun. Sometimes he draws inspiration from what he sees — like people playing soccer on their lunch break. Or the time of year — a mummy from Halloween looms over a nearby cemetery. He made a diamond when his friend got married. And a to-be-repaired Batman symbol just because.

“I guess there is this sense of the unknown person going around doing this thing, so I guess that kind of relates to it a little bit,” Kirby said.

Kirby’s created installations in New York City and in Miami during Art Basel. And he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.

“I think partly for myself and partly for other people. … Just something as simple as making somebody smile or surprise when they come across a new one or something. … Makes me keep going I guess,” Kirby said.

Kirby said his work is especially fun to check out at night. The darkness masks the distractions that can normally be seen through the fence and many of his pieces are strategically placed under street lamps.