Pink, blue, red, yellow and covered with paintings of giant people playing instruments, you definitely can’t miss this building on the edge of Surry Hills in Sydney, But if you’ve ever ridden the Light Rail between the Surry Hills and Moore Park stops, or walked/driven up South Dowling Street and wondered why there’s a huge multi-coloured house just sitting there, here’s the story.
The short version: It’s a 5000-squar-foot mural by the renowned French street artist Thierry Noir.
Now, this I’ve known for a while. Noir’s a pretty big deal in the street art world and was one of the first artists to paint on the Berlin Wall, and so, finding a work by him in a big city isn’t unusual – but, finding an entire house that looks, frankly, like someone made a rainbow explode in an area where most houses are old-fashioned Sydney terraces and pretty muted in their colour scheme is slightly unusual. And, so, I wanted to know more.
The Story of the Surry Hills Street Art House
I started in the obvious place Noir’s website, where I learned that the house belongs to John Winning, head of the Appliances Online company here in Australia and that American DJ and music producer Seth Troxler asked Noir to paint it.
Admittedly, this threw up far more questions than it answered and my ‘I’ll just bang up a quick post on the cool house’ turned into an afternoon of googling.
Apparently, Troxler counts Australia as a second home and Winning is one of his best friends in the country (they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together). In fact, the inside of the house (which is completely incredible) even includes a basement club containing a mural of Troxler on the wall (and a full set of DJ decks).
I then came across a blog post by the guys at Snap, Travel and Pop who actually ended up help paint the colourful squares on the house before Noir arrived to paint his signature figures.
If you want to see pictures of the house being painted, then check this out.
What none of these sources quite explained though is why the owner decided to paint it in such a cool – but definitely noticeable – way. After all, in its previous incarnation of a furniture shop, the building had a pretty plain white front and, if you look at the pictures above of the interior, you can see that the house has a very clean modern feel about it.
However, there is a clue in the planning application for the mural (yes, I really got a bit obsessed with this one) which states that the building used to have a problem with graffiti.
It was therefore hoped that the painting seemed like a really good way of stopping the less talented erm, ‘street artists’ of Surry Hills from tagging the properly – street art code dictates you don’t paint over someone else’s wall – and as the application states because Noir is so renowned as a street artist, others would be more likely to leave the site alone.
Now, it kind of all makes sense – your mate is having trouble with graffiti on his new home. He tells you about it and says that maybe painting with a mural might be a good idea – at which point you (being Seth Troxler) go, hang on, I know a guy whose pretty good at street art, let me ask him… (well that’s how I like to think it happened anyway).
Whatever the actual process, it’s put an amazing piece of street art right on the route of what was then the new Light Rail… in other words, it was a win-win for everyone! No wonder the council said yes to it!
My Big Mistake
It took Noir three months to complete the project and there are five murals on the house, including this first image on the side of the house – which is Noir’s homage to Troxler on his decks.
I am, however, a little bit gutted. I happened to come across the house when it was being painted and I recognised the signature big-lipped faces drawn by Thierry Noir immediately – it’s just a shame I didn’t recognise him!
For some reason, I didn’t think Noir would have grey hair, I thought he’d be a youthful hipster (despite painting the Berlin Wall in 1984, maths was never my forte!) and so, I paid no attention to the older man in white overalls who just looked like he was filling in the colours. It was only when I was researching the story of the house that I realised it was actually him.
Yep, call yourself a journalist Helen, you missed the chance for an exclusive chat with one of the world’s most famous street artists. Every time I walk past now I kick myself!
So, there you have it – the story of the Thierry Noir house of Surry Hills – well, as much of it as I could piece together on google anyway.
If you haven’t seen it before and are now wondering where to find the house. It’s at 625 South Dowling Street right next to the Light Rail line.
What Else is Nearby if You Like Art?
A sign on the mural says it’s the entryway to the Surry Hills Arts District – and, it’s not a bad name for the area that surrounds it which is home to some other pretty cool murals, the studio of famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley and some cool independent shops to check out.
You can easily spend an afternoon wandering around Surry Hills, but here’s a few stops to your itinerary if you’re interested in the street art in Surry Hills.
The Thierry Noir house is right by the intersection of Devonshire Street and Bourke Street that houses the famous Bourke Street Bakery – they aren’t arty but they are renowned for their sausage roll.
Just down from here, on Whittell Street, you’ll find a work by another international street artist, Mue Bon from Thailand.
Reverse your steps a bit and head to Raper Street where you’ll find the studio of famous Australian artist Brett Whiteley.
His work is full of incredible details and seeing it all in his actual studio is really special (you can find out more about Whiteley and the garden dedicated to his memory here). If it’s open the day you’re exploring definitely check this out.
From here, go to Edgely Street Reserve where you’ll find another uniquely Australian mural on the side of a nearby house. You’ll also see some fun drawings on the Pottery School over the road.
Next, you could head along Devonshire Street and into the heart of Surry Hills to do some shopping – head to Vivid Shop if you want to buy funky gifts or Title to stock up on coffee table books and music gubbins.
Or if you want more Surry Hills street art head back north down Bourke Street (past The Carrington pub where you’ll want to stop if you like dogs as it’s one of Sydney’s best pubs for furry friends and their parents.)
You’ll find another mural in a small playground between numbers 444/4466 – then keep going south.
When you get to the hopefully soon-to-be-renovated Hopetoun Hotel, check the black wall where you’ll find one of Will Coles’ signature skulls (more on him here).
From here, turn right toward the Cricketers Arms Pub on Fitzroy Street which also has some nice murals along the side (and does a pretty good vegetarian lasagne) or left to check out the giant mural of AFL player Adam Goodes on the corner of Crown and Fouveaux Streets.
It’s a whistle stop tour of Surry Hills Street Art, and there are more murals and other installations in other parts of the area – but they are a post for another day. This one was just to explain the amazing Surry Hills Street art house. And now I have. Still kicking myself that I didn’t recognise Thierry Noir though!