Noma Bar’s innovative, playful style has made him one of the most sought-after illustrators working today, with a broad range of commissions from magazines and newspapers – including Empire, the New York Times, Wired, the Guardianand Time Out – and numerous private and advertising clients. His use of negative space and minimalist forms creates images with multiple readings that can delight and shock in equal measure. Each of Bar’s illustrations tells a story that is hidden in the details, with the message revealing itself as you look more closely.
Noma has handpicked his most iconic illustrations and favourite works, each one displaying the distinctive style that has established his reputation. The works are organised into thematic chapters such as ‘Pretty Ugly’ (portraits), ‘In Out’ (sex), ‘Life Death’ (conflict), and ‘Less More’ (daily life). Alongside the images, Bar reveals his working methods and the stories behind his often idiosyncratic inspiration for different illustrations, and reflects on how his life experiences have shaped him as an artist.
We spoke with Noma about this new release…
Can you tell us a bit about who you are, where you work and how on earth you got to this point?
I’m a Graphic Artist, based in London. I studied Graphic Design in Jerusalem (Bezalel Academy) & moved to London straight after college (2000). I love to draw. Always drawing my stories and other people stories, it’s all about the story. My studio is in Highgate and I spend most of the day in Highgate Wood. It’s my favourite brainstorm spot in London. In the afternoon I go back to the studio and continue to draw and execute my sketches.
It all started with a few postcards that I sent to the Guardian & Time Out and continued with weekly illustrations for the Observer and other national newspapers & magazines. Then it moved to gallery walls, book covers, posters, sculptures, 3D, animation and other unexpected directions
There’s quite a few books of your work out there, why should someone pick up this one in particular and what can they expect?
At the moment there are two editions of my new book Bittersweet in shops. A limited edition 5 volume book with a signed screen print, and a paperback version (400 pages). My first book, Guess Who (2007) and second book Negative space (2009) are not in shops anymore but some copies are still sold online. In my new book Bittersweet, you can read my stories, inspirations, daily observations, and enjoy Fernando Gutierrez book design. Bittersweet limited edition contains 5 books: Less More, Life Death, In Out, Pretty Ugly, Rough Smooth. Each book is printed on different stock including a mini booklet with my childhood drawings. It has a signed screen print that is dedicated to the first bittersweet story that I learnt. The paperback version has 4 sections, 400 pages.
You have a very distinctive and recognisable style that this book proves can be turned to illustrate all manor of subjects – is it as easy as you make it look?
The effort of making things effortless is a dominant part of what I do and the way I live and draw every day from 9 in the morning until 3 or 4am including weekends. Behind every published image there are many hours, endless ideas and explorations and obsessive sketching to make things float effortlessly.
As a high-profile practitioner you must get a lot of copy-cat work brought to your attention, does it bum you out or do you just accept it as the price of popularity?
Nothing prepared me for the first time that i discovered that my work had been copied. I felt betrayed and hated the entire humanity. Through the years I have realised that my work excites people & there is a fine line between ‘being inspired’ and ‘copy’, for example, when Universities teach my work, very often I will see online that students are experimenting with my so-called ‘style’ & I’m fine with it. They are discovering a new language but when ideas are stolen…my agents legal team get involved, especially if it’s a client or a brand that is in the picture.
I particularly love the portrait section in this book – your genius is to say so much with so little – can you tell us about any favourite (or particularly tricky) portraits?
Spock is my favourite…To use a quote from the Bittersweet book –
‘This is one of my favourite portraits just a single hand floating in space creates the eye and eyebrow. I was working hard on my book Negative Space (2009) when I had a call from David McKendrick, the art director of Esquire at the time. David has a beautiful, warm Scottish accent that you just can’t disappoint or turn down. I did a few sketches, one of which had only one element, the Vulcan salute ‘Live long and prosper’ which I knew from my childhood (’birkat ha cohanim’). Every synagogue displays this hand symbol on the wall or engraved in wood somewhere.’
The Chineasy work you’ve done is hugely successful (and helpful – my niece loves it!) are you still involved? Any plans for more of that work?
Chineasy is one of my favourite projects. I’m still involved but not on a daily basis (social media, website, branding) but on specific projects that require new characters and new ideas.
Lastly, anything excited lined up for 2018? or if you’d rather, What would you love to do more of in 2018?
Got so many things before 2018… just had a gallery show in Italy. The books are out. Next month is the official Bittersweet book launch event in the Tate Modern and I’m giving a short talk and book signing. In December I will have a mini show in the Outline Edition gallery in Shoreditch. Lots of new projects cooking for 2018 but too early to announce…