Meet Norman Kirby: Creator of Fence Art in Jersey City

Any Jersey City local has likely come across an intricate + unique work of fence art. Each fence installation is eye-catching and probably sparks a fun conversation or thought. Now, it’s time to meet the man behind it all.  Norman Kirby is the artist behind the contagiously energetic fence art installations around Jersey City. Every artist has his or her medium, a trade that they’ve come to perfect and in Kirby’s case, the approach to his art was completely unique.  It was the first of its kind to be displayed on such a wide-reaching canvas — the city itself. Keep reading to learn more about Norman and his unique art.

norman kirby

{Photo credit: @normkirby}

About Norman

After growing up in various towns within New Jersey, Norman made the life-changing decision to move to Jersey City in 2009. His goal was to find a community that he could be inspired by and quickly realized that creativity was pouring out from every direction in none other than Chilltown. It is no secret that as the most diverse city in the U.S, it has become the cultural hub and possibly the hippest city in the country. As Norman put it, whether it is visual art, music, dance or theater, there is always a show in JC. 

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Norman has worked at Mana Contemporary, a staple in the Jersey City art community, for almost six years as an artist assistant for contemporary artist Stanley Casselman. Designing fabric installations on chain link fences is far from Norman’s only medium. He also creates wire sculptures, ink drawings, woodburning, glass etchings, acrylic paintings, paper cut-outs, and if all of that wasn’t enough, his artistic ability spans as far as painting murals. On a typical night, Norman catches a drink with friends, but not without his sketchpad. He gets some of his best drawings done in bars and sidewalk benches. Oh, and he’s got a hidden talent for beatboxing. Raised in a family of musicians, Norman has always been drawn to music and that connection is displayed in his art. 

Surprisingly, his artwork{and beatboxing} wasn’t originally one of his passions. The only time Norman engaged in art was in his art classes at school. He pursued a physical education degree at East Stroudsburg University and after completing his first year he quickly realized the direction he wanted his life to go in and transferred to Rutgers University to “become a more dedicated artist.” The rest, simply put, is history.

How Norman Started Fence Art

fence art norman

{Photo credit: @normkirby}

Norman wanted to make several beautiful pieces of art to be displayed outside in the open for everyone to see without getting in trouble for vandalism. It was the idea of creating something on a public domain that wouldn’t damage or deface property and could be easily taken down if needed. The added advantage to the fence art installations is that they are constructed with eco-friendly materials. The recycled fabric is dyed to the desired color and reused to create something that positively impacts the community. He made an otherwise basic wire fence into an instant source of cheer for everyone who passes by. Locals will find the fabric-characters dancing, playing instruments, swinging a bat, and more.

norman kirby  art work

Norman has covered just about every neighborhood in the city. He doesn’t receive payment or expect special acknowledgment for it, he does it for pure fun and to spread as much joy as possible. Because of how durable the fabric is, they persevere through all seasons. You can always count on them being exactly where he left them. 

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jc livin art

Norman recently took on the challenge of giving an entire block a facelift with his fence installation in downtown Jersey City. The chain-link fence extends around all sides of the historic Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse, aka the Holy Grail of canvases for Norman to beautify with his art. Three out of the four sides of the block are covered in his fabric creations depicting quotes like “JC Livin,” an elephant, unicorn, dancers, musicians, a bouquet of flowers, and other eye-catching designs.

In 2018, Norman was acknowledged for his installations and received an award for public art from the Jersey City Arts Council.

Advice for Artists

Norman’s advice for aspiring artists is to go to art shows regularly and get involved in open calls for art shows as much as possible. He knows first-hand that it’s difficult to be an artist full time, so he stresses the importance of finding jobs that are related to the art industry. Before being an artist assistant, he worked at a frame shop in downtown JC for a few years and the framing skills he learned have been a wonderful asset to his career as an artist.

Norman also has plans to open a framing shop in McGinley Square in the near future. 

It’s impossible to walk past any of Norman Kirby’s fence art installations and not smile. Every day they send messages of happiness, creativity, and togetherness. It’s a good day when you spot a new one in town. Selfless acts of kindness for the betterment of the community are what make Jersey City so special. 

Have you seen Norman’s work around town? Let us know in the comments!

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Written by:

Victoria is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, Hoboken Fire Museum/Hoboken Historical Museum, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.