Noma Bar’s illustrations do the thing visual communicators are always told not to: they tell not show. They’re brazen in their simplicity, and often, simply brazen. They manage to distill hefts of meaning with precision, concision and a heavy, heavy wink.
Bittersweet – a new book published by Thames and Hudson – tells Bar’s story to date with great detail and personality. Laid out like a visual autobiography, readers travel along the clean lines of his symbolic illustrations, in a bid to understand where his distinctive graphic style comes from. We venture under childhood beds stealing glances at naive 1960s pornography, through Bar’s college days in 1990s Jerusalem, to dusty bookshops in London in the early 2000s. We see the ultrascans of his eldest daughter. In short, we get closer than ever before to the man at the end of the pencil.
Bar began his career by sending postcards to publications like The Guardian and Time Out, which responded overwhelmingly postively, with a string of commissions. ‘I didn’t want to spend time on decoration and uneccesary detail,’ Bar writes of these early designs. ‘I made sure always to put the idea at the forefront, trying for maximum communication with minimal elements.’
It’s a working philosophy that has stayed with him for 15 years, as have certain prevailing themes – like sex. Penises abound in the ‘In Out’ chapter of Bittersweet. ‘Sex is a sensitive subject, and it seems to me that illustration is a great way to deal with that sensitivity,’ says Bar, who looks deep into the negative spaces to create something positive. Funny, moving and sometimes controversial, his work has become a visual soundtrack to the shifting sexual landscape, illustrating important articles on subjects from porn to female empowerment to sexting.
As well as illustrating journalism, Bar has created cover art for Wallpaper*, as as well books by Haruki Murakami and Don DeLillo, he has depicted presidents, and wrapped Coca-Cola cans in Marvel superheroes. He has mounted an exhibition on conflict, published a book of portraits, and a Design Award-winning guide to speaking Chinese. Each work bears his signature double-take design. Once you’ve looked twice, and worked out the puzzle presented in each picture, you feel like you’re in on a secret only you and Bar share. Like his images, the master of simplicity is actually a lot more complicated than you’d think. In his own words, ‘I always try to say more than one thing at a time.’
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Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.
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