It started about 10 years ago as a senior thesis art project.
Now, there are hundreds of koi fish spray painted in public spaces — on sidewalks and on the sides of buildings — all over Milwaukee.
The artwork is courtesy of Jeremy Novy, a local artist who splits his time between Milwaukee and San Francisco. He started painting in public spaces as a form of self therapy, a way to work out the frustration he felt from a strained relationship with his family, he says.
He describes himself as a self-made man and says he feels fortunate to put his classical training in the arts into practice.
And he’s practiced a lot in Milwaukee.
So, why koi?
Novy became fascinated with the koi’s importance in Asian cultures while studying at Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee. The fish represent peace, harmony and beauty — a significance shared across several distinct Asian cultures.
He spray painted his first set of koi as he was finishing his senior year at UWM. On quiet Thanksgiving Day he set out to the Oak Leaf Trail on the East Side, knowing it would be deserted for the holiday. He did 75 koi that day, on a long stretch of the paved pathway.
Since then, his art has spread across Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. Sometimes it’s just a couple small fish painted on the sidewalk, and in other locations, you can find large scale murals depicting the same koi.
And if you’re starting to think you’ve seen these in other U.S. cities, you’re right. He has taken the same technique on the road, beautifying major cities like Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Miami and Atlanta, just to name a few.