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Thierry Noir

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Thierry Noir
Born1958 (age 65–66)
Lyon, France
Notable workBerlin Wall murals
StyleStreet art

Thierry Noir (born 1958) is a French artist and muralist based in Berlin. He is considered the first artist to paint the Berlin Wall in the 1980s. He created brightly-colored paintings across large spans of the Berlin Wall and some of these original paintings can still be seen on surviving segments of the Wall in art collections and on the East Side Gallery. Noir's work and style are now considered iconic, and Noir is also regarded as one of the forerunners of the street art movement as a whole.[1][2] He continues to create murals worldwide in cities including London, Los Angeles, and Sydney.

Early life[edit]

Thierry Noir was born in Lyon, France, in 1958.[3] At age 23 in January 1982,[4] he moved to West Berlin with two small suitcases[5] after purchasing a one-way train ticket. He was inspired by musicians David Bowie, Nina Hagen, and Iggy Pop[6][7] who also lived in West Berlin at the time.[3] The lyrics to Lou Reed's "Berlin" also convinced Noir to stay.[8] He initially lived in a squat (the Georg von Rauch House)[9] in Mariannenplatz overlooking the Berlin Wall.[3] Upon arriving in Berlin, Noir himself became a musician and toured as a multi-instrumentalist in the German musical group, Sprung aus den Wolken.[9]


1984–1991: Painting the Berlin Wall[edit]

View from the West Berlin side of the Berlin Wall in 1986 showing Noir's early Berlin Wall murals.

In 1984, Noir began painting the Berlin Wall with fellow French artist, Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet.[9] Their first paintings were a reaction to the melancholy, sadness,[2] and "pressure of daily life" they experienced living so close to the Wall.[10] They used paint scavenged from nearby construction sites[7] or left behind by city workers. Prior to this, graffiti on the Wall had largely consisted of anti-American slogans, racist notes, and funny messages. Noir himself noted that painting large images on the Wall had been seen as a "taboo, even among alternative people". Noir and Bouchet's status as foreigners allowed them to effectively skirt this taboo. One of the first works they painted on the wall was an homage to Jean de La Fontaine's fable of "The Tortoise and the Hare" close to Potsdamer Platz.[9]

Initially, local Berliners were wary or even hostile in their attitude toward Noir's work.[4] Some were concerned about the source of his potential financial backing, even suggesting that he might work for the American Central Intelligence Agency[8] or that he might be a French spy.[11] Noir also had to paint quickly and surreptitiously to avoid being caught by the Genztruppen (German Democratic Republic border guards). Owing to these constraints, Noir developed his now iconic style (which he dubbed "Fast Form Manifest") to portray his figures with one continuous line and just a few colours.[6][12]

Despite early difficulties, Noir's work earned appreciation from Berlin residents[8] and helped to create an artistic movement around the Wall[1] that attracted numerous local artists like Kiddy Citny[13] and a number of visiting international artists including Richard Hambleton[14] and Keith Haring.[4] Over the course of five years, Noir painted around six kilometres of the Berlin Wall, which was toppled in 1989.[3]

1990–present: Post-Berlin Wall work[edit]

View of Noir murals on the Berlin Wall next to Boyenstrasse in 1989.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Noir was one of the artists invited to create murals at the East Side Gallery, which was established in 1990.[15] The Gallery is a 1,316-metre remnant of preserved Berlin Wall[16] in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg that was not torn down because it stood on the other side of the River Spree in GDR-controlled East Berlin. Since 1990, Noir's murals at the East Side Gallery have come to be regarded as a fixture of Berlin.[15]

On 23 June 1990, 33 original painted sections of the Berlin Wall featuring Noir's artwork that had been saved from destruction were auctioned off at the Hotel Metropole in Monte Carlo to an international audience. His artwork then spread internationally to collections and museums throughout the world.[6][17]

Throughout the 1990s, Noir continued to work as an artist. He also collaborated with Irish rock group U2, who commissioned him to paint a series of six Trabant cars[6] for their 1992 Zoo TV Tour.[18] Noir's Trabants were incorporated into the lighting rigs for the tour,[19] and images of them were used as cover art for U2 singles including "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways".[6] One of Noir's Trabants was also featured on the cover of U2's album, Achtung Baby.[8]

Thierry Noir mural painted on remnants of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, 2011.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009, Noir was invited to Los Angeles to participate in the Wende Museum's The Wall Project. Ten original segments of the Berlin Wall were imported to the United States and newly painted in Los Angeles by Noir and L.A.-based artists including Shepard Fairey, Retna, and Kent Twitchell. These works were then permanently exhibited at 5900 Wilshire Boulevard near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.[20][21]

Noir traveled to London in 2013 to collaborate with the U.K. artist, STIK, on a large mural on the Village Underground in Shoreditch and to deliver a public lecture at Somerset House on the history of street art. While in London, Noir painted numerous new murals in his signature style on the walls of Shoreditch and Dalston.[22] Noir also worked with Dulwich Picture Gallery on a reinterpretation of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's baroque masterpiece Joseph Receiving Pharaoh's Ring (1755), which is now a part of the Gallery's permanent collection as a mural in Dulwich Park.[23]

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2014, Noir staged a retrospective exhibition in London. The exhibition featured original artworks, films, photographs, and interviews.[3] That year, Noir was commissioned by the Museum of London to create a mural on the museum's rotunda entrance[24] and was also commissioned by the Embassy of Germany to the U.K. to paint a mural in London's Belgrave Square to commemorate the 25th anniversary.[25] Noir also painted the interior of the former East German Embassy building at 34 Belgrave Square.[26] Later in 2014, Noir's retrospective traveled to Los Angeles where he painted a 100-metre long mural on South Spring Street in recognition of the Sister Cities relationship between Berlin and L.A.[27] Noir also donated a painting to the German Consulate in the United States.[28]

Throughout 2017, Noir painted his three largest-scale public works at the time in London, Los Angeles, and Sydney. In London, Noir painted a 37-metre high tower block in Acton which was considered the tallest mural in Britain.[29][30] In Los Angeles, he completed a 15,000 square-foot mural in North Hollywood.[31] In Sydney, he painted a former jam factory in Surry Hills.[32]

To mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Noir was commissioned (along with STIK) by the Imperial War Museum in London to paint new artworks on original segments of the Wall. The two segments, titled WALL, were displayed outside the Imperial War Museum in November 2019.[11] The two segments were later displayed at the Migration Museum in South London.[33] Also in 2019, Noir staged a charity exhibition titled The Thierry Noir Academy of Art at Protein Studios in London. All proceeds from the exhibition were donated to the Hackney-based children's charity, The Kids Network.[34]


Segment of Berlin Wall in New York City

Noir's painted Berlin Wall segments are on permanent display in private and public collections worldwide. His pieces can also be seen at the still-standing East Side Gallery in Berlin.[15] Several of Noir's artworks are part of permanent museum collections, including at the Allied Museum in Berlin, the Newseum in Washington, D.C., the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, the Wende Museum in Los Angeles,[2] and the Migration Museum in London, where an adjacent segment is painted by Stik.[35][33] Other segments are displayed publicly in cities throughout the world. In New York City, Noir's Wall segments can be seen at Kowsky Plaza in the Battery Park City community and at 520 Madison Avenue in Manhattan.[36] Six segments are located on Leipziger Platz in Berlin.[37] In Los Angeles, segments are located at 5900 Wilshire Boulevard as part of a larger display[20] and at Loyola Marymount University.[38] Other cities with Noir's painted Wall segments include Yokohama, Japan; Uijeongbu, South Korea; Mexico City;[2] Reston, Virginia;[39] and the Spanish island of Ibiza.[40]

In 2013 during the Art Basel Fair in Miami, Florida, Noir repainted four original segments of the Berlin Wall, which are now in the public art collection of Ironside district.[41] In 2019, Heidi Klum's husband, Tom Kaulitz, gifted her a segment of the Berlin Wall that had been newly painted by Noir for display outside her home in Los Angeles.[42] Later in 2019, Noir presented a newly painted segment of the Wall in Plovdiv, Bulgaria to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Plovdiv's status as a European Capital of Culture in 2019.[43]

Film and other work[edit]

Noir and his Wall paintings can briefly be seen in the 1987 Wim Wenders film, Wings of Desire.[44] Noir met Wenders on a number of occasions at a local restaurant where he would sell some of his artwork. After talking multiple times per week, Wenders decided to put Noir in a scene where he was depicted standing on his ladder while working on the Berlin Wall. That ladder is now in the permanent collection of the Wende Museum in Los Angeles.[8][45] In 2000, Noir was featured in the German documentary Nach dem Fall (After the Fall), in which he discussed his art and the importance of the Wall to Berlin only a decade after its fall.[46]

Noir has participated in the Berlin Festival of Lights since 2014. As part of the annual festival, Noir's artworks are digitally projected onto Berlin landmarks such as Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Cathedral, and the P5 Tower in Potsdamer Platz.[47][48]

In 2015, Noir worked with drinks firm Hennessy to create custom bottle labels with sale proceeds going to the Centrepoint charity for homeless youth.[49] In 2016, Noir partnered with the audio equipment manufacturer Rega on a series of seven hand-painted Rega RP1 turntables. The turntables were sold at auction to raise money for Amnesty International.[50]


Noir's Berlin Wall paintings, featuring his signature brightly-coloured, cartoon-like figures, are now considered iconic[3] and representative of the movement in opposition to the Wall because they attracted other artists to the movement.[1] Noir is considered one of the forerunners of the street art movement as a whole.[4] Despite their ostensibly "naive" style,[44] the paintings "stood as the voice of freedom"[3] in artistic protest against the often deadly border.[12] They also became a symbol of new-found freedom after the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jones, Jonathan (3 April 2014). "Thierry Noir: the first graffiti artist fired up by the Berlin Wall". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Bridge, Adrian (8 April 2014). "Thierry Noir and the art of revisiting the Berlin Wall". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Bambic, Ana (2 March 2014). "Thierry Noir: A Retrospective". Widewalls. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d "Interview: Thierry Noir". Street Art London. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  5. ^ Gale, Charlotte (1 April 2014). "Thierry Noir, first artist to paint on the Berlin Wall, has first solo show in London exhibition". Culture24. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e Dinakaran, Vaishali (19 November 2015). "The painting's on the Wall for Thierry Noir". Forbes India. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  7. ^ a b Lazic, Sanja (6 November 2014). "Artist of the Week – Thierry Noir". Widewalls. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e Alderson, Rob (3 April 2014). "Art: Thierry Noir – the first man to paint the Berlin Wall – opens first ever solo show in London". It's Nice That. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Walters, John (19 August 2015). "The freedom principle". Eye. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  10. ^ Leventhal, Cassie R. (2010). "Berlin After the Wall: Decades After Its Fall, History Still Haunts". Inquiries Journal. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  11. ^ a b Langley, Edwina (8 November 2019). "Fall of the Berlin Wall: street artists STIK and Thierry Noir create new artwork to commemorate 30th anniversary". Evening Standard. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  12. ^ a b Wyatt, Daisy (2 May 2014). "Meet Thierry Noir: The street artist who 'mutated' the Berlin Wall in protest". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  13. ^ Bogojev, Sasha (17 March 2014). "Street Art Pioneer Thierry Noir Reveals Unseen Photos of Berlin Wall Murals". Hi Fructose. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  14. ^ Major, Patrick (26 November 2009). Behind the Berlin Wall: East Germany and the Frontiers of Power. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-960510-1.
  15. ^ a b c Brown, Kate (23 November 2018). "An Art-Covered Stretch of the Berlin Wall Has Now Been Saved From Encroaching Real Estate Developers". Artnet. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  16. ^ Brewer, Jenny (12 November 2019). "Berlin Wall graffiti is made into a typeface to warn how "division is freedom's biggest threat"". It's Nice That. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  17. ^ "Chronicle 1990". Chronik der Mauer. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  18. ^ Kvaame, Paal (9 November 2019). "Berlinmuren ble til verdens lengste kunstverk". Aftenposten (in Norwegian). Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  19. ^ "1,000 Days of Zoo TV, Part One". Propaganda. No. 19. U2 World Service. Spring–Summer 1994. Archived from the original on 17 January 2013 – via atu2.com.
  20. ^ a b Haithman, Diane (12 August 2009). "Wall-to-wall unity symbol". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  21. ^ "The Wall Along Wilshire: 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall". Experiencing LA. 9 November 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  22. ^ "Thierry Noir visits London". Street Art London. 14 February 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  23. ^ "The Outdoor Street Art Gallery of Dulwich". Inspiring City. 18 May 2013. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  24. ^ "Street Artists RUN, Thierry Noir and John Dolan Take Over the Museum of London to Create Huge Mural". Inspiring City. 26 May 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  25. ^ Maric, Bojan (5 November 2014). "Thierry Noir: 25 Years Mauerfall". Widewalls. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  26. ^ Bridge, Adrian (8 November 2014). "Berlin Wall art comes to London". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  27. ^ Bambic, Ana (9 October 2014). "Thierry Noir: The LA Retrospective". Widewalls. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  28. ^ "Painting by Berlin Wall Artist Thierry Noir Marks 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall". Germany.info. 28 October 2014. Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Thierry Noir paints tallest mural in Britain". Street Art London. 30 April 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  30. ^ "Rachel Pepper from Artification on street art that's making an impact in W3". Acton W3. 7 June 2017. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  31. ^ Cowan, Katy (12 December 2017). "Freedom Boulevard: giant mural unveiled in Los Angeles by Berlin Wall artist Thierry Noir". Creative Boom. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  32. ^ "Painting with World Class Street Artist Thierry Noir in Sydney". Snap, Travel and Pop. 27 March 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  33. ^ a b Reynolds, Laura (30 March 2020). "Closing, Reopening, Moving: Here's What's Going On With London's Museums". Londonist. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  34. ^ "Thierry Noir joins forces with The Kids Network". The Kids Network. 6 August 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  35. ^ "Wall". Migration Museum. Retrieved 25 November 2023.
  36. ^ Schulz, Dana (6 November 2019). "Where to see pieces of the Berlin Wall in NYC". 6sqft. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  37. ^ "Street-Art-Künstler restaurieren Arbeit auf Berliner Mauer". Die Welt (in German). 2 August 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  38. ^ "Artist Reunited with his Berlin Wall Mural at LMU". Loyola Marymount University. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  39. ^ "11 US cities where you can see pieces of the Berlin Wall". USA Today. 8 November 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  40. ^ "Ibiza, E". The Wall. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  41. ^ Rheker, Dirk (5 January 2018). "Ironside: Kreuzberg in Miami". Florida Sun Magazine (in German). Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  42. ^ Chen, Joyce (5 September 2019). "Heidi Klum's Husband Gives Her a One-of-a-Kind Gift". Architectural Digest. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  43. ^ "Painted fragment of Berlin Wall to be unveiled in Bulgaria's Plovdiv on December 19". The Sofia Globe. 18 December 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  44. ^ a b Burke, Jason (18 April 2009). "Berlin Wall given a facelift as freedom painters return". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  45. ^ "Graffiti in the death strip: the Berlin wall's first street artist tells his story". The Guardian. 3 April 2014. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  46. ^ "After the Fall". IMDb. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  47. ^ Bermann, Caroline (13 October 2015). "Berlin: Festival of Lights". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  48. ^ Jordan, Lisa Marie (15 October 2019). "Berlin: A city bathed in light". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  49. ^ Murray, Felicity (6 July 2015). "Artist decorates jeroboams of Hennessy VS". The Drinks Report. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  50. ^ Spice, Anton (4 May 2016). "Artist Thierry Noir hand-paints 7 limited edition turntables". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved 28 January 2021.

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