Harald Naegeli – the Sprayer of Zurich
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.
From the 1970s onwards, Naegeli embellished what he considered to be boring façades with cheerful, lively stick figures (photo: south façade, University of Zurich).
He was particularly active in the university district, creating 40 figures in the ETH underground car park alone.
Naegeli fled from imminent imprisonment to Germany. Here he had prominent supporters, such as the artist, Joseph Beuys (right).
Naegeli is now a celebrated artist. The commissioned work, “Totentanz” (Dance of Death), in the Grossmünster remains unfinished due to a long-standing dispute.
The artist visits his water goddess, Undine (rear of the Deutsches Seminar, University of Zurich) and shows his unique style of painting.
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.
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.
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:
Spraying is Permitted Here:
Graffiti is not allowed everywhere. In the city of Zurich, however, there are walls that can officially be sprayed on – for instance, at the Oberer Letten or the Rote Fabrik.