Meet Thierry Noir: The street artist who 'mutated' the Berlin Wall in protest

Thierry Noir is one of the forerunners of modern street art, although he still remains relatively unknown.

For five years he painted the Berlin Wall illegally every day with bold, cartoon-like images of animals and human faces.

With little money and no stable employment, he scavenged emulsion from building sites to paint the wall in an act of protest to “transform it, make it ridiculous, and help destroy it”.

His aim was to paint the Berlin Wall to make it stand out like a mutation in the city, not to make it a beautiful piece of public art.

“I wanted to cover the wall with colours to wrap it up with paintings, to make it luminous, to show it like a mutation in the city, a mutation in art and nature,” he says.

“I could not make the wall beautiful because in fact it would have been absolutely impossible to do so.”

Dinosaurs Noir painted as 'mutations' on the Berlin Wall Dinosaurs Noir painted as 'mutations' on the Berlin Wall His painting style developed during his time in West Berlin due to the ongoing threat of getting caught by patrol guards or, in some cases, German Democratic Republic soldiers.

At one point during his five-year painting protest, Noir and his partner Christophe Bouchet were held up by soldiers with machine guns after they tried to drill a metal door onto the wall with screws.

In order to paint quickly and avoid arrest, Noir simplified his figures into one continuous line painted with one or two bright colours, what he calls the “Fast Form Manifest”.

Even today, Noir’s bold lines carry a strong message of resistance through art, making him one of the forbearers of today’s political street art scene.

An example of Noir's 'Fast Form Manifest' technique, where all figures are painted quickly using one bold line and one or two colours An example of Noir's 'Fast Form Manifest' technique “If you paint on the street you are immediately political, because you change the life of the people. Especially in north Europe where the winters are long and grey – you give people a one second smile on their face,” he says.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall he has been invited to paint on remnants of the wall across the globe from South Korea to Mexico.

More recently, Noir has completed a number of murals in Shoreditch, where he currently has his first solo exhibition. Last year he was invited to paint the giant Village Underground Wall with street artist Stik in the east London district.

Thierry Noir paints a door in Shoreditch, where his first solo exhibition is being held Thierry Noir paints a door in Shoreditch, East London

The artist continues to paint in the same stylised way he developed in the Eighties, even recreating the same animals and figure heads he painted thirty years ago.

Noir rarely paints illegally on the street any more, and his output has never reached the same prolific level as his five-year painting protest in Berlin.

However, he remains emotionally detached from his revolutionary feat, insisting he painted the wall to show people it was a mythical entity that would not exist forever.

Kofi Annan stands in front of part of the Berlin Wall painted by Thierry Noir at the UN headquarters Kofi Annan stands in front of a Noir part of the Berlin Wall at the UN headquarters, New York

When the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, he says he felt no sadness about the destruction of five year’s work.

“I was not crying because my world was pulled down, it would be arrogant to say that. It was not an art project, it was a deadly border. One hundred and thirty six people were killed because of the wall – everyone was just happy that it went away.”

Thierry Noir: A Retrospective runs at the Howard Griffin Gallery until Monday 5 May; entry is free.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn