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

Translated by Virginie Desforges

Françoise Cactus: Along the Bethaniendamm, near Mariannenplatz, one can see your artwork. When did you start painting the Berlin Wall?

Thierry Noir: It was at the end of April 1984. It was a full moon.

Christophe Bouchet: I said to myself, this wall, this is an unused canvas. If people write their political slogans on it, why couldn’t we paint our pictures on that wall too?

Françoise Cactus: When you painted their graffiti over, did people shout at you?

Thierry Noir: Yes, but very rarely. As I was painting one came to me and said: "You selfish one, you are stealing the wall!" What a narrow-minded chap!

Christophe Bouchet: Otherwise they would say: "well, there is still enough place left for other graffiti". Just imagine, the Berlin wall is 165 km long. We do not want to paint all those 165 kilometers, it would be huge a work, except maybe if we had enough money, and material and if somebody would gave us computers, but that is an utopian conception...

Françoise Cactus: How much color did you use so far?

Christophe Bouchet: A little more than 1000 Kilos.

Françoise Cactus: Thousand Kilos? Don't you exaggerate a bit?

Christophe Bouchet: But, but, 1000 Kilos make 1000 liters! You must add also 100 spray cans: 50 blacks and 50 whites.

Thierry Noir: We paint as fast as possible. The faster it goes, the better it becomes. I have a yellow pot, a pot blue, a pot of red, and that's all. I paint the forms on the wall with rolls, zak zak zak, very fast. I spray the outlines afterwards.

Christophe Bouchet: I paint an other way: I use what can be seen of the old graffiti and I dress them on, a curve for example will become an eye. Then I spray the outlines as well. Figures, large landscapes, big monsters, those showing their teeth… Once a West-Berliner policeman came to me and said. "It is beautiful what you are painting".

Thierry Noir: Someone said to me "It is forbidden, we will get arrested by the police". It is not true. It's a legend. The both sides of the wall belongs to GDR and even three more meters in front it. Of course it is forbidden to paint the wall, but not by the West Berlin police. They have nothing to do with it at all. Perhaps they are even pleased.

Françoise Cactus: But the East Police was not so pleased, were they?

Thierry Noir: The Vopos came, because the television filmed us by painting the wall. It was on May, 1984 the 16th.

Christophe Bouchet: They had been wondering, why there was such a sharp lighting at 6 a.m.

Thierry Noir: The West Berlin TV, SFB, came with two or three huge spotlights. It was sunrise, between five and six a.m. Christophe's drill machine made a huge noise as well, through the quite morning. Christophe drilled 4 holes into the wall and put rawl plugs inside them, so that heavy door could be screwed to the concrete wall. He had painted the two sphinxes which stood left and right just a couple of days before. The door should have taken its place between them. Thereby we wanted to represent the entrance to paradise.

Suddenly one of those SFB guy came to us and screamed: "Hello everybody, please step back, everybody step back, hurry up!" I said to myself: "What does that guy has to roar like that now?" I raised my head to the top of the wall, and oh surprise! Over there I saw the head of a Vopo looking down at us. What a shock! He could have shot us if he wanted to. But thanks God nothing happened! He disappeared immediately.

What have we done after? We pushed all our color pots and ladders on the side, back to the west, just in case any trouble happened. Then we came back to keep on painting for a while, but the same Vopo came back, again and again to look at us over the wall. Then the television guys said: "it’s enough now, it's too dangerous. Let’s stop shooting!" The door was already rawlplugged at the wall, but not well fixed, it hung badly.

We waited for a while, looking around. On the no man's land behind the wall there was a huge amount of people: Vopos, car, lorries, etc… The television crew drove away and half an hour later a group of four Vopos climbed with a ladder over the wall from the east side to the west. Two of them had a machine gun.

They carried everything away over the wall as evidence back to the east. Everything that we had screwed onto the wall: a urinal and a wash basin, a pair of shoes. We had sprayed over a pair of eyeglasses we had painted : "Eat your feet!" and had hung two old shoes up to the glasses. They took away everything.

Christophe Bouchet: I also had drilled a small hole in the wall, so one could look at the other side through it.

Thierry Noir: And as they pulled the door over the wall... That door was so heavy! We have had so much trouble carrying it to the wall. And boom! It felt down to the other side. Since that day on they came with ladder and looked over the wall more frequently, took pictures of us with an enormous telephoto lens. And if we ever tried to hang up an urinal basin again, they would immediately carry it away. I believe that they particularly watched us out.

Françoise Cactus: And, Christophe, you are not allowed to go into the east anymore?

Thierry Noir: That is another story. On November 19th 1984 we drove through GDR by train to go to Malmoe (Sweden). In his suitcase Christophe had, "Actuel", a french magazine, where the May 1984 photos of the climbing Vopos were published. When they saw the pictures the controllers were absolutely shocked. They said: "Oh! Look! Look at this! Pictures of our soldiers!" In Christophe's bag they also found letters from Checkpoint Charlie museum.

Christophe Bouchet: I had to step out of the train of course, and wait at least one hour in an office in East Berlin, well kept by two, three or four soldiers. I cannot tell you how scared I was. Then a Stasi officer from the secret services came and told me: "Monsieur, you certainly know that we have a problem with you?"

I asked him: "What kind of a problem?" Then he showed me a book with my photo in it, the same big book as in the west, where are registered all the terrorists. I was like a Baader of the East! Do you understand? They had a picture of me. One could recognize me very well.

Thierry Noir: For them this is "Painting an element of the GDR border", and that is strictly forbidden.

Françoise Cactus: Did you get any punishment for that?

Christophe Bouchet: They said directly to me: "The next time you enter GDR, you’ll get two years in jail for that if you come back again"

Thierry Noir: His flights to go out of West Berlin should be paid by the west government him, as compensation.

Françoise Cactus: What pleases you better, work on the streets or inside your studio?

Thierry Noir: It’s good to do both.

Christophe Bouchet: I work on the street, just beside a shopping mall called: Ku'damm Karrée. Every day of the year, no matter the weather: wind, rain or snow. Less if raining because it damages the pictures, but if it’s snowing, people asks: "isn't it too cold for you to paint on the streets?" Naturally I have a small heating system.

I hold my black hat to them and ask: "Would you please give me 10 marks, so I can drink a coffee and warm myself up" Some of them gave me money, others regarded me as an idiot.

Sometimes I eat well and go in classy restaurants, dressed nearly like a clochard. With their black tie on the waiters look up at me and say: "Perhaps we would let you in Monsieur if you had better clothes on". Then I tell them: "It won’t take long, I’ll be right back to pay you a visit".

And it takes only ten seconds as I wear a nice suit under my working clothes. I quickly take off the old jumper and trousers full of colors. And already back there I say to them: "I’ll go to the bathroom and quickly wash my hands". Afterwards I sit at a table and ask the same waiter: "Will you please bring me the menu,".

Françoise Cactus: I already saw you when you were painting at Kurfürstendamm. There was a sign in front of you, where it was written on that you were dumb and deaf, do you still use it?

Christophe Bouchet: Deaf. I must explain it to you, I am really deaf, this is practical,. Most of the customers begin to discuss. And if you begin to discuss you have lost. But with some I do talk. Depending upon their mentality. For that I am never wrong. The people, which buy my paintings, are not idiots.

Françoise Cactus: You paint your pictures from religious topics and often they look like church windows. Why that?

Christophe Bouchet: That is not, because I am catholic. Forget about that. This is, because for me the sky is like a globe made of glass, a glass globe made of Duralex, for example like a glass dish, on which you threw a stone. It is not broken, but you see all the tears.

Françoise Cactus: Some are also very romantic. "Fantasies of a young woman in one spring evening", for example!

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, but those are my old things.

Thierry Noir: Yes, in former times he represented also the holy New Will in 30 pictures, the Gospel according to Christophe Bouchet.

Françoise Cactus: This wall, that was a good publicity for you.

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, later I will say: "Look at that, this is something. And you, what have you done during this time? Because people talk much and dare nothing."

Thierry Noir: Yes one had to dare and do it.

Christophe Bouchet: We did it. During the springtime we want to continue those wall paintings. We will try to paint five kilometers of the wall, so we will break the world record. We have done already 500 meters. 500 meters, which is not more then the tenth of what we want to make? And it is nevertheless already a three hundredth of the whole length of the citizens of Berlin wall! We paint in a completely different style, but there is a unity in our pictures on the wall.

Thierry Noir: We want to furnish in our house, George von Rauch-Haus, a gallery with a small Café also here. But the City Hall of Berlin threatens with the locking of the house. Perhaps a few people could help us to furnish the gallery. And we need also colors for the wall.

Christophe Bouchet: Yes, even the most awful colors you can find, this is all the same for us. Sometimes one mixes two ugly colors together, and it results a beautiful color. I still have different projects, but for later, for example in New York, there I intend to do a performance with furniture. A few years ago I made a work with the parking meters of the streets of Tours in France. I cut them off and weld them again together, in tough to build an urban monument.