From the Berlin Wall to the gallery wall

Thirty years ago, artist Thierry Noir made his mark in a big way.

Noir 1980s wall painting, Red Dope on Rabbit
Noir 1980s wall painting, Red Dope on Rabbit

In fact, he made many marks – illegally, across miles of the Berlin Wall.

Keith Haring meets Thierry Noir at the Berlin Wall
Keith Haring meets Thierry Noir at the Berlin Wall

His aim was to ‘perform one real revolutionary act: to paint the Wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, and ultimately to help destroy it’, according to the organisers of a new retrospective exhibition of Noir’s work.

GDR soldiers removing a heavy iron door from the Berlin Wall and taking back to East Berlin after Noir had stuck it to the Wall.
GDR soldiers removing a heavy iron door from the Berlin Wall and taking back to East Berlin after Noir had stuck it to the Wall.

The show opens next month at Howard Griffin Gallery in east London, and will present original works on a concrete wall across the space, along with photographs, interviews and films.

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

French-born Noir was part of a group of artists, musicians and creatives in 1980s Berlin which included such luminaries as David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who set out with a rebellious streak to create work like no one before them.

Noir had arrived in the German capital in 1982, ‘with one suitcase’, according to Howard Griffin Gallery, and made home in a squat overlooking the Wall at the border of East and West Berlin.

Thierry Noir standing by the Berlin Wall in the 1980s.
Thierry Noir standing by the Berlin Wall in the 1980s.

Two years after his arrival in 1984, he set about painting the Wall – which he did every day for the next five years, taking scavenged paint from construction sites as his medium. He made his living by selling small paintings on cardboard at local restaurants.

‘Noir’s aim was not to embellish the Wall but to demystify it’, says the gallery.

Noir original Wall painting from 1980s
Noir original Wall painting from 1980s

Since the 1980s, Noir’s work has come to be celebrated for its unique and brilliant use of line and simple shapes, frequently using a monster motif –  a style born of working quickly outside in potentially hostile environments.

A Noir wall segment in a private collection
A Noir wall segment in a private collection

‘Noir reacted to his environment and his monsters are a metaphor for the Wall itself, each one relating to his experiences or feelings of what he calls a “killing machine”’, says the gallery.

‘His enormous murals in vivid colours represented both a personal response to the oppressive environment he found himself in and a poignant political monument that is just as relevant in the 21st Century as it was at the height of the Cold War.’

2014 Noir canvas
2014 Noir canvas

Thierry Noir: A Retrospective runs from 3 April – 9 May at Howard Griffin Gallery, 189 Shoreditch High Street, E1

Latest articles