Thierry Noir: Thirty Years of Political Street Art

Thirty years ago, French artist Thierry Noir surreptitiously painted elephants, bunnies, and faces on the Berlin Wall. It wasn’t just a subversive act of protest; it was very dangerous. Noir painted mile after mile of artworks on the wall, which not only highlighted how ridiculous the barrier was, but also brought new attention to the wall and emboldened other artists.

A number of artists, musicians and free thinkers settled in West Berlin during the 1980s despite the difficulties of the time. Within a group which included David Bowie and Iggy Pop, was a rebellious young French artist called Thierry Noir. Thierry Noir was born in 1958 in Lyon, France and moved to Berlin in 1982 with one suitcase. By chance he settled in a squat overlooking the Wall at the border of East and West Berlin. One day in 1984 Noir spontaneously started to paint the Wall and continued to do so each day for five years with whatever paint he could scavenge from nearby construction sites. Noir's aim was not to embellish the Wall but to demystify it. As Noir says, "I did nothing but react to its sadness." During this time Noir would sell small paintings on cardboard at local restaurants to survive.

Until comparatively recently Europe was totally divided - West and East - with a very real threat of nuclear war between superpowers. Since 1990 and the fall of Communism the era of two sole superpowers facing off against each other has ended. However, the world has faced mutlifarious security concerns of a different nature since and areas of Europe, particularly the previous Soviet States have witnessed bloody conflicts. The current situation in Ukraine points to a renewed destabilisation of Europe that could once again put Russia into conflict with Western Democracies and endanger the security and civil liberties of citizens of Europe. While painting on the Wall, Noir's work gradually came to assume an iconic importance as a symbol of freedom in the lead up to the fall of Communism. The symbolism of this work carries an enduring legacy that is still relevant today in a world where there are still divisive walls both physical and metaphorical.

Boycott the Wall.

Since this time, Noir's exploits and highly distinctive visual language have become world famous and immortalised in popular culture such as Wim Wenders' 1987 film Wings of Desire and the cover of U2's album Acthung Baby. It is remarkable, then, that 'Thierry Noir: A Retrospective', held in the 25th anniversary year of the fall of the Berlin Wall, is Noir's first ever solo exhibition and also his retrospective.

A new exhibition, Thierry Noir: A Retrospective, opens on April 4th at the Howard Griffin Gallery in London and will run through May 5th.

The Tortoise and the Hare.

 Boycott the Wall.

Segments of Noir Berlin Wall featured in Wim Wender's Wings of Desire.  These pieces were auctioned in Monte Carlo and are now held in a private collection in New York City.

Berlin wall sign.

Noir painting the back of the Berlin Wall in the death strip as the Wall started to come down.

The fall of the Berlin Wall 

Noir - original Wall painting from 1980s.

View of the wall in the 1980s.

Noir 1980s wall painting - Red Dope on Rabbits

Noir painting Berlin Wall - 1980s.

Fast Form Manifest, 1980s

Bethanien, 2014.


Read more about Thierry Noir, and more about the exhibition at the Howard Griffin gallery.

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