• Hero

    Thierry Noir: Yellow Head, Flower For The People of Berlin and Turkish Lips

Art

Art: Thierry Noir – the first man to paint the Berlin Wall – opens first ever solo show in London

Posted by Rob Alderson,

“There are three types of artist,” Thierry Noir tells me, “difficult, very difficult and impossible.” Which one is he? “I do not want to know.” The unassuming French artist is in London for the opening of his first ever solo show at the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch, and has been working flat out for two weeks to get everything finished. As well as 15 large canvases which are going on display (alongside rarely seen photographs and films), Thierry has been busy painting various walls around east London and likes the combination of gallery and al fresco work; street painting he says gives him “a different type of energy.” It’s fair to say that Thierry Noir has some experience in this.

Rewind 32 years. Having dropped out of university and been fired from a series of jobs, he needed a change. “I knew that if I continued like that I would be stuck in a dead end. I realised a lot of people were talking about Berlin and most of the music I liked was being made in Berlin, so I went there.”

A woman he met at a New Year’s Eve party said he’d be able to stay with her best friend, so after 21 hours on a train he headed to his flat. “I realised after about five minutes the man knew this woman but not very well. After two days he just kicked me out on the street!”

Left to his own devices in Kreuzberg and unable to speak a word of German, he remembered the Lou Reed lyrics: “In Berlin, by the wall/you were five foot 10 inches tall/It was very nice/candlelight and Dubonnet on ice.” So Thierry decided to follow the wall, and after just a few minutes he came across a house he knew he was meant to live in. He stayed there 20 years, although he later discovered Reed had never been to Berlin when he wrote those lyrics on which he’d placed such significance.

  • Tn4

    Pictures of Thierry Noir at The Berlin Wall, included in the retrospective

  • Tn1

    Pictures of Thierry Noir at The Berlin Wall, included in the retrospective

  • Tn2

    Pictures of Thierry Noir at The Berlin Wall, included in the retrospective

  • Tn3

    Pictures of Thierry Noir at The Berlin Wall, included in the retrospective

  • Tn5

    Pictures of Thierry Noir at The Berlin Wall, included in the retrospective

No matter, because being by the Berlin Wall would come to define his career, and indeed his life. He became an artist quite by chance though. “Everybody you met was an artist so when someone asked me one day if I was an artist too, I said yes. That was the beginning.”

Initially he would make work with whatever he could find; he would tour the Kreuzberg area with artist friends collecting wood and old paint pots left outside houses. But it was the Wall that kept calling him; at that time it had just a few small paintings here and there and a slew of slogans. Slowly an idea started to form in Thierry’s mind. “It happened day by day. For the Germans the wall was a taboo and they just wanted to ignore it, so the area near it was abandoned." He set to work painting a stretch of it in his signature style, and ended up painting some five kilometres over the course of five years. Opinion though was split.

“Some people liked it and some hated it; it was like taking a cold shower then a hot shower. It was very strange. After a while I just started ignoring both these groups.”

“Thirty years after I started to paint, it feels like the right time.”

Thierry Noir

He soon began to win some very prominent admirers. He met Wim Wenders in a restaurant when he was selling paintings; the two got talking and he ended up working with the director on Wings of Desire. Later, U2 commissioned him for the artwork of Achtung Baby. “It was a new time,” he remembers. “The questions were no longer so aggressive. The first question people used to ask me were ‘Who pays you?’ or ‘Are you CIA?’”

As the fall of the Wall drew nearer, Thierry made the most of new opportunities. Citizens smashed holes in the wall and he was able to squeeze through and paint the East German side without getting shot. “It was the best revenge on the border guards after so many years of suffering. It was just about making them nervous. It was the same paintings but quick, with just a spray can to do the black lines.”

Now, 25 years after the wall came down in 1989, Thierry has his first ever solo show. Why has it taken so long? “I have been busy in Berlin, but it is exciting. 30 years after I started to paint, it feels like the right time.”

Thierry Noir: A Retrospective runs until 5 May.

  • Cellist-noir

    Thierry Noir: Cellist

  • Elephant-key

    Thierry Noir: Elephant Key

  • Flower-for-the-people-of-berlin

    Thierry Noir: Flower For The People of Berlin

  • Monotype

    Thierry Noir: Monotype

  • Red-head

    Thierry Noir: Red Head

  • The-blue-fast-form-manifest

    Thierry Noir: The Blue Fast Form Manifest

  • Turkish-lips-screenprint

    Thierry Noir: Turkish Lips

  • Yellow-head-screenprint

    Thierry Noir: Yellow Head

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. List-hanna-tuulikki-away-with-the-birds-its-nice-that-

    Few art projects merge feminism, singing, birds and the ecosystems of the Hebrides. Indeed, aside from Hanna Tuulikki’s Away with the Birds, we can’t think of another. The piece, made with arts organisation The Space, is a vocal score written for an all-female ensemble that takes inspiration from the landscape of the Hebrides to create a musical composition that mimics birdsong. This was initially performed on the island of Canna back in August last year, and arts organisation The Space has now commissioned artist Hanna to create a digital version for online audiences, launching this summer to continue the artist’s explosations of womanhood, nature and the online space as an environment in its own right. We had a chat with Hanna to find out more.

  2. List-kerry-james-marshall_-plunge_-1992.

    There’s a raw, energetic feel to the work of Kerry James Marshall – it’s all bold brushstrokes and bright colours that can’t help but channel a sense of movement and action. The Alabama-born artist now lives in Chicago, and manages to get that raw, outsider art feel combined with a rigorous eye for colour and composition. The works that have particularly pulled us in are the ones that capture their subject in a moment of repose or rapture, whether quietly sunning themselves, looking in the mirror or diving into a pool. They’re the unposed moments where people are truly themselves, and Kerry’s brushes articulate them beautifully.

  3. Universaleverything-sydneyoperahouse-itsnicethat-list

    It may be my former life as a hack but there’s something about the word “biggest” that always piques my interest. That said, ambition only gets you so far and you can’t sacrifice skill or style in a headlong rush for scale. With Universal Everything though, you needn’t worry. On Friday the studio created its largest projection to date, lighting up the iconic sails of the Sydney Opera House with hand-drawn animations from 22 of the world’s best creatives. Every year the landmark commissions an artist to work on its curves and Matt Pyke and his team jumped at the chance to take on an opportunity that “epitomises everything we strive for.”

  4. Linus_bill_adrien_horni_ny_karg_catalogue_2014_it's_nice_that_list

    Swiss art duo Linus Bill and Adrien Horni’s ongoing collaboration has produced a great body of irreverent, experimental work. They first joined forces in 2011 when they were invited to produce the artistic supplement of the Swiss Art Directors Club advertising awards. Controversially, they turned the notion of award-winning design it on its head by producing a Xeroxed, deconstructed version celebrating the refused entries. This kind of do-it-yourself subversion has been the undercurrent running through everything the two image-makers (and breakers) have done since.

  5. Michaelcraig-martin-onbeinganartist-istnicethat-list

    In some circumstances, calling a book On Being An Artist would seem pretentious and pompous, but if anyone knows about being an artist, it’s Michael Craig-Martin. Over his extraordinary career he has studied with Chuck Close and Richard Serra, met the likes of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, John Cage and Charles Saatchi, had work shown at Tate Modern, the Pompidou Centre and MoMA, and taught some of the YBAs’ leading lights including Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas.

  6. Ricco_maresca_mexican_pulp_art_its_nice_that_list_2

    Ballsy, bizarre and a little bit racy, these Mexican pulp fiction book covers are fantastic fun and epitomise our need for a bit of weird naughtiness. The kitsch-factor is overwhelming as scantily clad women run away in terror, a man in purple spandex is surrounded by adoring cats and giant robots menacingly pick up shiny red cars.

    As part of an exhibition at New York gallery Ricco Maresca held earlier this year, the collection is a celebration of pulp paperbacks released in Mexico during the 60s and 70s. Many of the artists remain unidentified which is a shame as some of these are absolute gems. Without book titles, there’s no context for the artwork and we’re left with the ordinary and extraordinary crashing into each other in glorious fashion. According to Ricco Maresca, there’s a key difference between Mexican pulp art and the American pulp art coming out at the same time. As well as the drama and sauciness, much of Mexican pulp art prominently featured violence, sci-fi, psychedelia, and crime, making it all the more outrageous.

  7. Yayoi-kusama-itsnicethat-list

    Yayoi Kusama is one of few artists who is seems to be without comparison. Her new exhibition, Give Me Love takes place at New York’s David Zwirner gallery, and features a collection of her enormous brightly coloured canvases. Their sunny dispositions are undercut with titles which reveal a more disquieting undertone for example I Who Cry in the Flowering Season, or I Am Dying Now There the Death Is. In another room a series of her bulging Pumpkin sculptures, reminiscent of decaying fruit in spite of their metallic sheen and polka dot finish, reinforces the juxtaposition of the joyous and the sinister.

  8. Brest_history_and_chips_it's_nice_that_list

    Imagine a John Stezaker collage let loose in the kitchen and you’ve got the History and Chips series from Brest Brest Brest. With a portfolio that includes a poster of Elvis Presley’s face emerging from a melting ice cream, the graphic design studio based in the south of France couldn’t fail to pique our interest. For their playful History and Chips collages, Rémy Poncet and Arnaud Jarsaillon have raided the fridge and dressed up classic movie stills and vintage portraits with everything from smoked salmon and mustard, to ham and pineapple. A testament to the fact that food makes everything better, these old pictures are given a new lease of life thanks to a little bubblegum and a wry sense of humour.

  9. Olafur_eliasson_the_weather_project_it's_nice_that

    This week the most visited modern and contemporary art museum in the world celebrates its 15 year anniversary. After its transformation from derelict power station to beloved beacon of British culture, Tate Modern has defined a generation and helped open art to the everyman. Here, we look at some of the top moments over the last decade and a half at Britain’s leading arts institution.

  10. Kings-cross-pond-ooze-architects-its-nice-that-list

    I’ve slid down an art installation before thanks to Carsten Höller, and I’ve frolicked about in a room full of balloons thanks to Martin Creed, but never before had I literally swum in art until this morning. Bright and early, there I was shivering in art, thanks to a bathing pond art installation in a building site in London’s King’s Cross. The piece, formally known as Of Soil and Water: the King’s Cross Pond Club , was created by Ooze Architects (Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg) and artist Marjetica Potrč, and takes the form of a natural, chemical-free pool, complete with plants and bushes. And who knows what else – I didn’t dare think what one day could be lurking in there after the maggoty old python Hampstead Heath ponds story of a few years back. 

  11. List

    They wowed us in 2010 with their pop-up cinema in an old petrol station in Clerkenwell, The Cineroleum, and the following year they won us over with Folly for a Flyover in Hackney Wick. Now, after 15 years of transforming unusual spaces, the east London collective Assemble has been shortlisted for the 2015 Turner Prize for the revival of a cluster of derelict terraced houses in Liverpool, Granby Four Streets. Borne out of the DIY-culture and the flurry of pop-ups like Bold Tendencies that took London by storm a few years ago, the collective of 18 designers and architects is an exciting choice, and a first for the often sensational art prize.

  12. List-erik-kessels-unfinished-father_002-its-nice-that

    Kesselskramer co-founder Erik Kessels’ side projects usually seem light-hearted: take his book Attack of the Giant Fingers, for instance. His latest project, though, has a decidedly more serious slant, having been borne of his father suffering a stroke. For the project, named Unfinished Father, Erik looked to his pa’s passion for restoring Fiat 500 (Topolino) cars. Prior to his stroke, Kessels senior was halfway through completing his fifth of such restorations, but it was left unfinished since the attack left him barely able to move or speak.

  13. List-jeremy-deller-vinyl-factory-venice-biennale-its-nice-that

    All-round superdude Jeremy Deller has created a jukebox for the Venice Biennale. But instead of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way or other pub staples like Russ Abbott’s Atmosphere, it plays only the sounds of factories. Cleverly named Factory Records, the piece contains 40 seven-inch records, each of which features the ambient sound of a different factory. Visitors to the piece can put on whichever they fancy, and if they really like it, they will be able to buy the sounds as a limited-edition box set designed by Deller with Fraser Muggeridge and released by The Vinyl Factory. The work continues Deller’s ongoing investigations into English working-class concerns, and links to his Venice Biennale performative piece, which uses archive materials to look at factory working conditions from the 19th Century to the present day.