French artist Thierry Noir has completed a mural in Los Angeles entitled Freedom Boulevard. The 15,000 sq ft mural painted on the side of a stark white apartment building in the North Hollywood Arts District was commissioned by building owner MWest Holdings. The mural depicts Noir’s signature elongated heads in profile which grew out of what he calls his Fast Form Manifest, a style he developed in Berlin during the 1980s. Known worldwide for his brave disobedience during the Cold War in illegally painting miles of the Berlin Wall, Noir’s work stands as a symbol of freedom and an act of defiance against walls, borders, and persecution. Since the 1980s Noir has continued to paint murals around the world in his internationally known visual language.
Thierry Noir was born in 1958 in Lyon, France, and came to Berlin in January 1982. In April 1984, Noir began to paint the Berlin Wall and is credited as being the first artist to do so. Noir’s objective was to perform one real revolutionary act: To paint the Berlin wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, and to help destroy it prempting its ultimate fall in 1989. Noir covered the Berlin Wall, more than 3 metres high, with bright, vivid colours, aiming not to embellish the wall but to demystify it. Noir’s iconic, bright and seemingly innocent works painted on this deadly border symbolised a sole act of defiance and a lone voice of freedom.
Painting on the wall was absolutely forbidden; it was built 3 metres beyond the official border so the east-German soldiers were able to arrest any person standing near it. Noir had to paint as quickly as possible, using the recipe of “two ideas, three colours” as a celebration of the “eternal youth”. Despite their bright colours and playful nature, the murals left a lingering sense of melancholy: As Noir says, “I did nothing but react to its sadness”.
Since the 1980s, Noir’s exploits and highly distinctive visual language have become world famous and immortalised in popular culture such as Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire and the cover of U2’s album Acthung Baby. Noir is today being increasingly recognised as a key forerunner of the modern street art movement. Noir is also compared with contemporaneous New York pop artist Keith Haring also born in 1958 and who likewise began his career on the streets.
Noir’s practice has a strong emphasis on line and aims to simplify forms to their most basic elements. This simplicity reflected the necessity of painting quickly outdoors in a hazardous environment with very real risks to his personal safety. Noir reacted to his environment and his monsters are a metaphor for the Wall itself, each one relating to his experiences or feelings of what he calls a “killing machine”.
Noir’s work is held in many important public and private collections around the world including Battery Park (New York), the Newsuem (Washington DC), The Allied Musuem (Dayton, Ohio), Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles), and the Jerry Speyer Collection (New York).