Thierry Noir, first artist to paint on the Berlin Wall, has first solo show in London exhibition

By Charlotte Gale | 01 April 2014

A retrospective of the work of Thierry Noir, the first artist to paint mile upon mile of the Berlin Wall, is about to open in London

Click on the picture to launch the gallery


In 1984, Thierry Noir was the first artist to illegally paint the Berlin Wall, reversing its purpose of alienating and restricting the public. His aim was revolutionary: he wanted to transform the space, make it seem ridiculous and hasten its eventual destruction. His first solo show, appropriately, features original works on a concrete wall.

Noir was born in Lyon in 1958, but moved to Berlin – taking two suitcases with him – in 1982, drawn by the music of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who were two of his creative peers in the city, and settling in a squat overlooking the Wall at the border of East and West Berlin.

Scavenging material from nearby construction sites during daily visits over a five-year period, Noir painted with fellow artist Christophe Buchet. “I did nothing but react to its sadness,” he says of the Wall, reflecting on days when he would sell small paintings on cardboard at local restaurants to survive.

His work stands as a vibrant, seemingly innocent, simple embodiment of 1980s Berlin, with most of the murals possessing two ideas and three colours, allowing Noir to paint at speed.

“We paint as fast as possible,” he explained in 1985. "The faster it goes, the better it becomes.

“I have a yellow pot, a pot blue, a pot of red, and that's all. I paint the forms on the wall with rolls, zak zak zak, very fast.

“I spray the outlines afterwards.” The Wall was a dangerous place, and painting it posed serious risks to his personal safety.

Noir’s work features in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film, Wings of Desire, and on the cover of Acthung Baby by U2. He has also designed one of the peculiar buddy bears - an art installation of painted fibre glass bears which are dotted around Berlin – and is recognised as a pioneer of the modern street art movement, most recently creating a work in Shoreditch alongside revered American graffiti artist Steve ESPO Powers last year.

Thierry Noir: A Retrospective is at the Howard Griffin Gallery‎, London from April 3 – May 9 2014.

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Pics: Jamie Hughes, image23.co.uk; Thierry Noir; Marcus Peel, marcuspeelphotography.co.uk; Howard Griffin Gallery
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