Thierry Noir - Evening & Day Editions London Wednesday, June 7, 2023 | Phillips

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  • In April 1984, Thierry Noir became the first artist to paint the Berlin Wall. Armed with bright colours, Noir’s objective was to perform a revolutionary act: to transform, ridicule, and ultimately help destroy the Berlin Wall. From 1984 until the Wall fell in 1989, Noir covered five kilometres of the concrete barrier, creating bright and seemingly innocent works that challenged communist repression and, in the process, propelled his artwork to worldwide acclaim.


    Thierry Noir in front of his work at the Berlin Wall, 1986. 


    Constructed in 1961 at the height of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall stood as a uniform concrete mass over three metres high which physically divided the German capital, symbolising the opposing political ideologies between the Western Bloc and the USSR. Foreshadowed by Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain Speech’ of 1946, a monumental and impassable barrier splitting Europe became a reality in the years following World War II, placing Berlin at the fulcrum of Cold War tensions.
    “The Wall was the trigger that pushed me to paint and become an artist. Its presence was so oppressive that it forced me to react.” 
    —Thierry Noir

    Constantly guarded by East-German soldiers, it was absolutely forbidden to paint on the wall, and any trespasser was at risk of being arrested. In order to complete his paintings as quickly as possible, Noir’s technique was to adopt “two ideas, three colours,” resulting in a strong emphasis on line and the reduction of forms to their most basic elements. The simplicity of Noir’s cartoon-like creations mirrored the artist’s need to paint rapidly outdoors in a dangerous environment, where there was a real risk to his personal safety. Despite their vivid colours and playful appearance, Noir’s figures left a haunting sense of melancholy: as Noir clarified, “I did nothing but react to its sadness.” Noir’s monumental frescoes represented a personal response to the oppressive environment he found himself in, subverting this symbol of separation, struggle, and division into an emblem of hope - granting it a real human significance.


    East Side Gallery. Image: Imagebroker / Alamy Stock Photo


    The present portfolio of eight screenprints in vibrant colours is based on Noir’s world-famous sequence of Heads at the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km long stretch of surviving Berlin Wall located along the river Spree in Berlin. At this location during the Cold War, the border between East and West Berlin was the river Spree itself, and this meant that the GDR Government erected the Berlin Wall on the east shore of the river instead within their territory. Border patrols were made by speedboat. In November 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down, this long stretch of Berlin Wall survived because it was inaccessible to the west Berliners. In March 1990 an initiative was launched whereby Thierry Noir and 117 other artists from 21 countries were invited to create artworks across this span of the Wall between Ostbahnhof and the Oberbaum Bridge. Considered as a symbol of Germany’s reunification and a national memorial, the East Side Gallery is one of Berlin’s most important public artworks and also the longest surviving stretch of Berlin Wall in existence. Noir’s series of characteristic Heads - along with works such as Dmitri Vrubel’s “Bruderkuss” - are among the most iconic murals at the East Side Gallery and have themselves become emblematic of modern-day Berlin’s visual identity.


    Phillips are delighted to be offering this complete portfolio to the market for the first time. Executed in 2014 and symbolising the themes of freedom in Noir’s work, these prints are a testament to the artist’s long-standing relationship with the Berlin Wall and underscore his status as a key twentieth-century political artist.


East Side Heads

The complete set of eight screenprints in colours, on Somerset paper, the full sheets.
all S. 69 x 52 cm (27 1/8 x 20 1/2 in.)
All signed and annotated 'A/P' in graphite or white pencil (an artist's proof set, the edition was 25), published by Howard Griffin Prints, London, all unframed.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £33,020

Contact Specialist
+44 20 7318 4091

Rebecca Tooby-Desmond
Specialist, Head of Sale, Editions

Robert Kennan
Head of Editions, Europe

Anne Schneider-Wilson
Senior International Specialist, Editions

Louisa Earl
Associate Specialist, Editions

Evening & Day Editions

London Auction 7 - 8 June 2023