On Wednesday night we gathered at the Arnolfini, Bristol along with a crowd of eager designer types to listen to illustrator and proclaimed graphic story teller Noma Bar tell us his own story as part of The West of England Design Forum’s “Evening with…” event. Bar’s portfolio boasts an impressive array of national and international clients including The V&A, IBM, The Guardian, Wallpaper, New York Times and Esquire. Bar has a distinctive and unique style. A stripped back, graphic approach, Bar utilises flat, bold colours and constantly plays on the balance between positive and negative space. As Bar described it “the power is in the idea and not in the decoration”. Nothing is left to chance in his work. Every element, every line has a definite purpose, which help to inform the final design. Whilst his work tends to take on very serious subject matters such as sex, war, drugs, death and religion, he rationalised this by saying that he “takes the worlds toughest realities and makes them easy to take in”. This is certainly true of much of Bar’s vast portfolio of work. From political front covers featuring a portrait of Gaddafi for Internazionale mag, through to his recent controversial front cover for Time Out London’s Sex issue (which was subsequently pulled at the last minute), Noma seems to thrive on delicate subject matter which are always illustrated with a hidden twist of humour.
Referring to his working process, Bar explained that he spends the hours of 9am-4pm every day in North Gate park, London sketching/brainstorming ideas and freeing his mind from the restraints of the studio space. With a style that relies so heavily on the underlying concept (“I am after the maximum communication with minimum elements”), this ritual excursion to the park (filling 70+ sketchbooks to date), would seem to be a vital part of finding new ideas and developing the concept before moving to digital to produce the finished work on computer. Interestingly, Bar’s sketch book work is awash with different colours, loose sketches and scribblings. A far cry from Bar’s final designs which are always very limited in colour and rely on the precision of the line work. It would seem that Bar has a keen understanding of how the brain accesses and understands imagery and work’s his day around this process.
As well is discussing the multitude of editorial designs Bar has completed over the years for The Guardian, Esquire, Time Out and Internazionale, Bar has also had huge success with his highly acclaimed Cut It Out exhibition which has now exhibited at 6 different gallery spaces since launching in 2011. The exhibition featured an enormous dog shaped, electric powered die-cutting machine and will die-cut templates of Bar’s work from almost any material. The joy of the installation is that it’s completely interactive and allows for visitors to construct their own one-off pieces of work. By using different materials and textures (something Bar had always refused to do digitally) Bar’s work takes on completely new appearances, adding a new dimension to the work.
Bar continues to push his work into different areas and with new media projects for The Guardian and IBM soon to hit the public domain, it would seem that there is no slowing down for Bar. For as long as people enjoy stories, there will always be room for Noma and his work.