Thierry Noir is a French artist who is claimed to be the first street artist to paint the Berlin Wall. His brightly colored paintings, which often feature cartoon-like profiles, are now considered iconic and can still be seen on the East Side Gallery. He currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany.
Noir was born in 1958 in Lyon, France. He moved to Berlin in January 1982 with two small suitcases, attracted by the music of David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who lived in West Berlin at this time. He lived in a squat at Mariannenplatz, near the Berlin Wall.
In the 1980s, street art was considered vandalism, and German street artists avoided drawing on the wall - it was a kind of taboo for them, Berliners called it a “wall of shame”.
In April 1984, Noir and Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet started to paint the Berlin Wall, eventually painting 1 kilometre of it. Initially, the attitude of West Berliners to Noir's work was wary, often even hostile. Some believed that he was working for budget money and were against such spending of money from his taxes. Others believed that Tieri's task was to make a more “presentable” wall, which they could not agree with. He stated of painting the wall at this time: "I decided spontaneously to start to make something on the wall. I got thousands of questions - everyone wanted to know something about this - because it was new - there were no big paintings on the wall." Between 1984 and the fall of the Berlin Wall many other artists painted the wall, including Keith Haring, Kiddy Cidny, and Indiano. Noir can be briefly seen painting part of the Berlin Wall in Wim Wenders's 1987 film Wings of Desire.
In 1992 the Berlin Wall was declared a historic monument. In 2009, Noir was part of an initiative by the local government to restore 1300 meters of the wall to address issues caused over the years by vandalism, weather, and theft. As a part of this initiative Noir repainted several of his original works.
Commissions, exhibitions and collaborations
In 2009, in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ten original sections of the Berlin Wall, including artworks by Noir, were exhibited in Los Angeles as a part of the Wende Museum's The Wall Project. In addition, Noir and local artists, like Shepard Fairey and Kent Twitchell, were commissioned to create new pieces of artwork to display alongside the original pieces of the Berlin Wall.
Later in 2013 Noir participated in Baroque the Streets, a collaborative exhibition organized by the Dulwich Picture Gallery and Street Art London. Noir painted a street art mural of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's baroque masterpiece Joseph Receiving Pharaoh's Ring (1755) in Dulwich Park.
In December, 2013 during Art Basel Fair in Miami, Florida, Noir repainted four segments of the Berlin Wall. The segments of the wall together with several other works by Noir are now in the public art collection of Ironside district.
Noir's first solo exhibition was at Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch, London in April 2014.
Howard Griffin showed Thierry Noir: The Los Angeles Retrospective in Los Angeles from October to November 2014. In conjunction with the LA Retrospective, Noir painted a 100 metre long commemorative mural on South Spring Street as a gift to the City of Los Angeles in recognition of the near half-century Sister Cities relationship between Berlin and Los Angeles. The mural particularly commemorates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November. On the same occasion Noir donated a painting to the German Consulate in the United States.
Traces of Noir's work is still visible at the East Side Gallery of the Wall. There is also an example of his work on the portion of the wall in New York City in a courtyard on 53rd street between Madison and 5th Avenue.
Noir's paintings became a symbol of new-found freedom after the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War. The Irish rock band U2 featured Noir's artwork on East German Trabant cars and used photos of these to decorate their 1991 album Achtung Baby. The album itself includes songs, such as "Zoo Station", which have themes inspired by the fall of the Wall and the changes taking place in Europe at the end of the Cold War.
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.
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