Noir in glorious colour

Noir in glorious colour

Berlin comes to London this spring with a major retrospective of 1980s street artist Thierry Noir, at the Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch.

Is Berlin the coolest city on the planet? So much energy, excitement, offbeatness… Yet how different it was 30 years ago. The Cold War, when the city was a grey and bleak place, creativity quashed by fear, oppression and paranoia. And running through it like a scar, the Berlin Wall.

In 1984 a reclusive French artist, Thierry Noir, was living in a squat overlooking the Wall. One day he went out and painted a mural on the West Berlin side: bright, cartoonish pop art on an object of oppression. He went back the next day, painted a bit more; went back every day, evading arrest and being shot by guards, to paint more and more of it, using leftover paint he found on building sites.

‘Noir wanted to perform one real revolutionary act: to paint the Wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, and ultimately to help destroy it,’ says Richard Howard-Griffin, who is holding an exhibition of Noir’s work at his East London gallery.

Noir wanted to transform the Wall, to make it ridiculous, and ultimately help to destroy it

Other artists joined Noir. Keith Haring flew in from New York to spray-paint his similarly bright, cartoonlike pop art on the Wall. And, like Noir’s works, the images were colourful, playful, but the message political. The murals became familiar worldwide.

By the time the Wall finally fell in 1989, five years later, Thierry Noir had transformed 18 miles of forbidding concrete with his iconic art. Pieces of the painted wall were auctioned off at Sotheby’s by the East German government for millions. Noir received nothing at all.

The show at Howard Griffin Gallery is a retrospective, and the artist’s first ever solo show. Old and new works are exhibited alongside photographs, interviews and films, and original new paintings on canvas will be for sale. And through it all runs a concrete wall.

‘Thierry Noir: A Retrospective’ runs 4 April – 5 May 2014 at Howard Griffin Gallery, 189 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 (

For a taster, head to the junction of Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street, where Noir’s iconic heads, like pop-art Easter Island moai, decorate a wall of the old railway yard.

Like some kind of foreign-exchange programme, an element of East London street art is concurrently being transported to Berlin this month. The Graffiti Life Gallery, normally found on Cheshire Street (round the corner from Howard Griffin), is heading to the German city to present Pop Up Berlin, showing work from the British graffiti scene. Only this one’s perfectly legal, indoors and above-board; find it at 95 Torstrasse, 10119 Berlin, until 29 March 2014.

At the ace Ace Hotel, just down the road at 100 Shoreditch High Street.

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