Interview of Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet.
with Françoise Cactus. January 15, 1985.


Françoise Cactus: One can see your work along Bethanien Damm at Mariannenplatz. When did you start painting the wall?

Thierry Noir: It was April 16th 1984, it was the full moon.

Christophe Bouchet: I said to myself, this wall is an unused canvas. If people scribble their political graffiti on it, why not paint frescoes on it?

Françoise Cactus: Did people complain because you painted over the political graffiti?

Thierry Noir: Yes, yes, but very rarely. A guy approached me when I was painting on the wall and said: "Selfish, you're stealing the wall!". He was really a stubborn guy!

Christophe Bouchet: Otherwise, you have to tell them: "Well, there's still room for other graffiti". The Berlin Wall is 165 kilometres long. We don't want to paint that 165 kilometres wall completely, it would be a giant work, unless we had the money to do it, the material and if we were given computers, but it's a utopian idea.

Françoise Cactus: How much paint have you used so far?

Christophe Bouchet: A little over 1000 kilos.

Françoise Cactus: A thousand kilos? Aren't you exaggerating a little?

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, yes, 1000 litres is 1000 kilos, isn't it? You also need to add 100 cans of spray-paint, 50 black and 50 white.

Thierry Noir: We paint as quickly as possible. The faster, the better. I have a pot of yellow, a pot of blue, a pot of red, and that's it! Finished! I paint with a roller, zak zak zak, the shapes at lightning speed. Then I make the contours with spray cans.

Christophe Bouchet: I paint differently: I use what I can see from old graffiti and I dress it up. A curve, for example, becomes an eye. Then I also paint with sprays. Figures appear, big landscapes, big monsters showing their teeth. One day, the policemen from West Berlin came to me and said: "It's beautiful what you paint!".

Thierry Noir: one told us that it was forbidden to paint on the wall, that the West Berlin police were going to make us trouble. In fact, it's not true! It's a legend! The wall belongs to the GDR on both sides. Up to five metres in front of the wall you are still in East Berlin.

Because of those five metres, the West German police is not allowed to go near the wall, they have nothing to say. Maybe they're even happy about it.

Françoise Cactus: But those in the East weren't happy, were they?

Thierry Noir: The Vopos went over the wall because West Berlin television was filming us. It was the morning of 16 May 1984.

Christophe Bouchet: They wondered why there was suddenly such a luminosity behind the wall.

Thierry Noir: Journalists from the West Berlin TV channel, Sender Freies Berlin, had come as a threesome team with huge cinema lights. It was at sunrise, around six o'clock in the morning. In addition, the electric drill was making quite a noise in the quiet morning in Kreuzberg.

Christophe had already drilled holes in the wall to drive in dowels so that the door could be held in place with big screws. He had previously painted two sphinxes on the left and right, looking at each other. In the middle of these two sphinxes was to be the door. We wanted to represent the entrance to paradise with this cellar door.

Suddenly, one of the SFB members shouted: "Attention, everybody! Get back, quickly, quickly!".

I said to myself: "What's wrong with this guy?". I look up, oh dear, I see the head of a Vopo over the wall looking at us. What a shock! He could have shot us. Luckily not!

He disappeared immediately behind the wall. What did we do then? We put the paint pots behind the East-West demarcation line, in case there were any problems. Then we went back close to the wall to continue mounting the door, but the Vopo was looking over the wall again.

Then the TV reporters told us: "Enough! Let's stop everything!". The door was already on the wall, but it was still hanging not correctly. We waited a little near the door, then after the TV crew had left, we went back to our youth centre. We could look over the wall from a first-floor window and see what was going on.

We could see a lot of people in the no man's land behind the wall: Vopos making phone calls, cars coming and going, trucks bringing reinforcements, etc. We thought we have started World War III, by mistake, right in front of our door.

With the TV crew gone, four Vopos climbed up the wall with a ladder and then went back down on the west side. They confiscated everything we had already bolted to the wall. The door, the urinal, the sink, a pair of shoes. We had painted a pair of glasses and written with a spray "Eat your Feet!" and inside the glasses we had hung two old shoes. They photographed everything and then took these objects to an unknown destination.

Christophe Bouchet: I had also drilled a hole in the wall so that I could see the other side, but they didn't notice it.

Thierry Noir: The Vopos pulled and pushed this cellar door over the 360 cm high wall to the top. This door was so heavy! We had a lot of trouble carrying it, with 4 people, to the front of the wall. After several swings East-West-East, all of a sudden, BOOM! It collapsed on the East side in a gigantic crash.

Since then, the Vopos have been climbing more often, on ladders, to look over the wall, from our side. They bend down to the waist with a huge telephoto lens, to take lots of pictures.

A few days after the story with the door, we installed a second sink on the wall. The Vopos took it away the next day. I think they are more careful now.

Françoise Cactus: And you, Christophe, are you no longer allowed to go to the East?

Thierry Noir: That's a completely different story. On 19 November 1984, we took the train from Berlin to Malmö (Sweden). In his suitcase, Christophe had "Actuel": a French magazine, where the photos, taken in May, during the climbing of the four Vopos over the wall, were published.

The controllers on the train became very nervous when they saw the photos. They said, "Oh, these are our soldiers!". They also found letters from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Christophe's suitcase.

Christophe Bouchet: They forced me to get off the train. In an office, at the station Friedrichstrasse, I waited for at least an hour. Two, three, four soldiers guarded me.

I can't tell you how frightened I was. Then a Stasi officer came in and said to me: "Mister Bouchet, you must know that we have big problems with you?".

I said, "What kind of problems?". Then he showed me a picture in a book, like there are also in the West, a big book where all terrorists are catalogued. I was like Baader in the East! Do you understand? It was a photo of me. One recognised me well.

Thierry Noir: He was accused of making "illegals paintings on a border element of the GDR", which is strictly forbidden.

Françoise Cactus: You did not have to pay any charges?

Christophe Bouchet: The Vopos told me directly: "The next time you enter the GDR again, you'll do two years in prison".

Thierry Noir: The West should pay for his plane trip, to get him in and out of West Berlin in compensation for that.

Françoise Cactus: What do you prefer, working in the street or rather in a studio?

Thierry Noir: It's good to do both actually.

Christophe Bouchet: I work in the street, next to the Kudamm Karrée, in Charlottenburg. Every day, whether it's windy, rainy or snowy. Less when it rains, because it damages the paintings. But when it snows, people ask: "Aren't you cold?".

I have a small heater, of course. I hold up my hat and say, "Have you got ten marks, please, so that I can warm up and have a coffee?". Some people give me money. Others think I'm an idiot. Sometimes I make a good meal in a restaurant.

Since I am dressed almost like a bum, the waiters in ties look at me suspiciously. They tell me, "When you wear cleaner clothes, we'll let you in". I tell them:" It won't be long, I'll come back to visit you very soon".

So, I quickly take off my jumper, trousers and apron splattered with paint. It takes ten seconds, underneath I wear a suit. I'm right back and I tell them: "I'm going to go wash my hands!". After that, I sit down at a table and say quite loud, "Make me a place setting and bring me the menu, please".

Françoise Cactus: I have already seen you on the Kurfürstendamm. You had written a sign saying that you were deaf and dumb, do you still have it?

Christophe Bouchet: Deaf, yes. I'm really deaf, it's practical, I'll explain it to you. Most customers want to talk. And if you start talking, you're lost. I still talk to some, depending on their mentality. I am never wrong. The people who buy my paintings are not idiots.

Françoise Cactus: You paint according to religious themes and your paintings often resemble church stained glass windows. Why is that?

Christophe Bouchet: It's not because I'm Catholic. No, you have to forget that idea. It's because for me the sky is like a glass globe, a glass globe made of Duralex, for example, like a glass bowl on which a stone has been thrown. It's not broken, but you can see all the cracks.

Françoise Cactus: Some of your works are also very romantic. "A young woman's dreams on a spring evening", for example!

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, but these are my old paintings.

Thierry Noir: Yes, Christophe also represented the entire New Testament on wooden panels.

Françoise Cactus: This wall was a good advertisement for you guys.

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, later I will say: "There, that's something. And you, what did you do?". Because people talk a lot and don't dare to do anything.

Thierry Noir: You had to dare to do it.

Christophe Bouchet: We did it. In the spring, we'd like to do it again. We're going to try to paint five kilometres of wall, then we'll beat the world record. We've already done 500 metres. 500 metres is at least a tenth of what we want to do, isn't it? And it's already 300th of the total length of the Berlin Wall! We paint very differently. But there is unity in our paintings on the wall.

Thierry Noir: We also want to set up a gallery with a small café here, in the "Georg von Rauch-Haus" youth centre where we live. But the Berlin Senate is threatening to close this house. Maybe some people could help us to set up the gallery. And we also need paint for the wall.

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, even the most hideous colours don't matter. Because sometimes we mix two ugly colours together, and that gives a beautiful colour. I have other projects, but for later, like going to New York. I also have something in mind for a performance with furniture. A few years ago, I did a performance with parking meters in Tours (France). I cut them out and welded them together to turn them into monuments.