Harald Naegeli – the Sprayer of Zurich

From hunted fugitive to celebrated graffiti artist: Harald Naegeli’s stick figures are famous all over the world.
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Harald Naegeli

Who is Harald Naegeli?

In the late 1970s, Harald Naegeli became famous all over the world as the “Sprayer of Zurich”. With his illegal graffiti wall paintings, he protested against the urbanization of Zurich and its monotonous cityscape. Under the cover of darkness, he sprayed his stick figures – mostly nature spirits – on buildings and walls that he considered to be boring. With their elegance and feeling of lightness, the Naegeli figures are instantly recognizable. However, with his artwork, the graffiti artist not only caused a stir, but also soon aroused the interest of the police.

 

Cat-and-Mouse Game with the Police

A cat-and-mouse game with the police ensued. The graffiti sprayer managed to keep his identity secret for a long time. He evaded a prison sentence for defacement of property by fleeing to Germany. But despite the support of renowned artists like Joseph Beuys or politicians such as Willy Brandt, Naegeli was eventually arrested and spent six months in jail, having turned himself in to the Swiss police in 1980.

The Myth

After serving his prison sentence, Naegeli turned his back on Zurich and moved to Düsseldorf. Many of his Zurich works were removed – unfortunately so, many would say in retrospect. It was not until 2020 that the “prodigal son” returned to Zurich. In the meantime, “Naegelis” had appeared again and again, including in Venice. However, even Naegeli experts were never quite sure whether they were really originals. This served to heighten the Naegeli myth.

 

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From Illegal Sprayer to Celebrated Artist

In the meantime, Naegeli's figures, once considered rebellious and anarchic, are recognized as artistic interventions in the everyday world. This was honored in 2020 with the Art Prize of the City of Zurich. Naegeli sees himself as a draftsman who does not just limit himself to paper, but also sees walls as a drawing surface. He is one of the first Swiss artists to devote himself to politically-motivated interventions on the street. The works of this street-art pioneer are now deemed to be art in public spaces.

 

You can see where his works are located on the Naegeli city map. Or even add more, if they have not yet been recorded:

Naegeli City Map

Naegeli at the Musée Visionnaire

The museum looks for hidden treasures in archives, ateliers, and psychiatric institutions in order to uncover the creative power of unconventional people, eccentric characters, and unknown artists. Passion and fervor, not convention and commerce, are their driving force.

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Musée Visionnaire Zurich

In 2021, an exhibition is devoted to Harald Naegeli at the Musée Visionnaire.

Go to Musée Visionnaire 

Multifaceted Zurich