Described by some as the Godfather of [European] Street Art, Thierry Noir is certainly a legend in the street art history of the old continent. He was not only one of the most innovative spirits of the early 80s in Berlin, but also one of the most daring creatives, defying he rigidness of the Eastern Block Frontier and, in his own way, fighting for freedom. His transformative deconstruction of the Berlin Wall lasted for five years, through which Noir painted a length of four kilometers of the barricade, consciously working towards its demystification and, ultimately, destruction. His ridiculous monsters, funny, harmless creatures, populated the western side of the wall without fear, spitting in the face of oppression, executed quickly so that the clandestine painter wouldn’t get caught by the eerie, solemn guards. It wasn’t easy, nor comfortable, but Noir’s actions contributed to the artistic fight for all the right values of humanity. After having a successful debut at the Howard Griffin Gallery in London this spring, the artist moved to the West Coast of the USA, preparing another show - Thierry Noir: The LA Retrospective.
Graffiti on the Berlin wall were not invented by Thierry Noir. There were attempts of various paintings or tags over three initial generations of the wall. The so-called, fourth generation, was the first one that offered more or less smooth surfaces, thus enabling more elaborate, colorful paintings to appear. These were the early 80s, a period when Thierry Noir moved to Berlin, joining the wave of artsy pursuers of free expression, which included David Bowie and Iggy Pop, among others. His relentless painting adventure started in 1984 and ended with the fall of the wall, in 1989, where countless chunks of the absurd fence were promoted into ‘souvenirs’, taken by various people, subsequently sold and scattered all over the planet. There are pieces of wall painted by Noir in every corner of the Earth, while this artist does not stop creating, delivering always the same message of freedom.
Spontaneous reaction to the overwhelming sadness of what the wall represented was what pushed the young Thierry Noir into street art. That, and the fact everybody around him were artists, so he felt the need to contribute in his own way. It was a new era of decadence in the occupied city, when intellect meant more than anything, and money was not nearly as relevant as today. Soon after he began covering the Mauer with colors, Noir shaped up his recognizable style of simple, stylized faces, embodying all the grotesque implications of the concrete canvas. Looking at his works, other than the big-eyed ‘The Simpsons’ prototypes, we can uncover influences of cubism and its iconography, cartoons and comics, and overt, modern symbolism. This mock-cubism of Thierry Noir can now be regarded as an epitome of the art of resistance, colorful despite the bleakness of the situation, simplified in shape, to enable quick action under the radar of the notorious sentinels. Viewed in retrospect, comparison of Noir with Keith Haring appears as justified, since they shared not only the same birth year, but the somewhat guerilla approach to changing the collective spirit and addressing crucial social issues with their highly stylized art.
The intelligent, progressive art of Thierry Noir will be presented to the Los Angeles public for the first time, in the organization of Howard Griffin Gallery of London, the second solo exhibition in the year of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, honored on November 9, and the 30th anniversary of Noir’s wall painting beginnings in enclosed German capital.
Thierry Noir: The LA Retrospective opens today, on October 9 and it will run through October 23, 2014, at the 410 South Spring Street location in Downtown LA. The show will represent an overview of the artist’s career displayed alongside his new works. Last week, Thierry Noir painted a 700 sq ft commemorative mural on South Spring Street, endowing Los Angeles with yet another wall painting, addressing the long-standing Sister City relationship the American city shares with Berlin. In the coming week, the artist will create another mural on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, spreading his message that one must fight for freedom, as it is never given, but always won.
All photos courtesy of Howard Griffin Gallery.