THE BRIGHT HEADS OF BERLIN
WHAT REMAINS OF THE BERLIN WALL
There have seldom been artists, much less newcomers to town, who have so melded with a city and its history as Thierry Noir (born 1958). His fate took him to West Berlin (1945-1990). The Frenchman began to paint the west side of the Berlin Wall with other artists in 1984. Since the entire border area belonged to GDR territory, it was illegal to be artistically active there. But the scene was perfectly set for painting: giant concrete, gessoed surfaces, a massive audience, and guaranteed interest from the press. Noir had to work quickly to fill the concrete panels so as not to be discovered or chased away by the border patrol while painting.
These restrictions determined his style: heads in profile with full lips outlined by simple black lines like in a comic, painted two-dimensionally and in bright colors. One head fit on one or two vertical Wall panels. After a little while, each of Noir’s painted panels got an individualized face. The Berlin Wall defined Noir’s work and style: here he learned quickly and directly how to implement an idea and to use the entirety of the given format to his advantage.
At the renowned Berlin Wall Street Gallery you can still see a few meters of his spacious paintings; the rest of the weighty works were auctioned for millions. What remains is Berlin’s continuing reputation as a metropolis of art and a vibrant underground scene. Noir and his comrades-in-arms are a part of that today.
Thierry Noir’s motif lives on. Just like the world-famous graffiti artist Keith Haring (1958–1990), Noir also was able to transfer his art from the Wall and street to more manageable formats and into the gallery. His repertoire has become more diverse, but he has maintained the same incisive style. The new figures that have come along since now muse, talk to one another, move, and offer an allegory for the new, reunited Berlin, whose freedom and atmosphere Noir powerfully and bravely helped shape. Rarely has such a spontaneous artist such as Noir shown such continuity and managed to preserve and increase his joy of creation despite the shifting historical tides.
Thierry Noir was born in Lyon, France in 1958 and moved to Berlin (with only two pieces of luggage) in 1982, drawn by the music of then Berlin residents David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop. In 1984 he began to paint the Berlin Wall together with Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet and Kiddy Citny. His goal, according to him, was to "demystify" the Wall.
Noir rose to international fame with his work on the Berlin Wall, what he called the "biggest cement canvas in the world." Noir saw in his pictures symbols of the freedom that would be won after reunification – as well as allegories for a "world of poetry."
Noir designed a Buddy Bear (Teddy Noir) in 2005 to benefit the child relief organization "Die Arche – Christliches Kinder- und Jugendwerk."
In 1987 Noir contributed to the set design of Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire, in which he also appeared as an extra.