Three Questions: At Home with Illustrator Noma Bar

Three Questions: At Home with Illustrator Noma Bar Norma Bar has been taking the international world of editorial illustration by storm for over ten years. You've seen his strikingly graphic award winning images in publications such as UK Esquire, The Economist, Men's Health, The New York Times, Wallpaper, The Guardian, Time Out London, and Field & Stream to name a few (...seriously the list is endless!), and he's been shown in galleries all over the world from London and New York to Stockholm and Paris. Noma also rakes in commercial work for clients as varied as IBM and the V&A, works as an installation artist, designs books, posters, covers, heck he even famously illustrated the BAFTA brochures for the 2009 awards show! Whether working in print, sculpture or building an installation, Noma's creative philosophy is always the same: "I am after the maximum communication with minimum elements."

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The last couple of years have seen the release of 2 of Noma's books from Mark Batty Publishers, the first "Guess Who" focusing on Noma's extraordinary portraits and the second "Negative Space" focusing more on his conceptual work. Noma Bar is as prolific as he is talented and I was lucky enough to work with him on some feature openers for Money Magazine last month. That seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to throw a few questions his way and learn a little bit more about Noma Bar! 

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I'm a huge fan of your work on many levels, of course it's super smart and your minimalist graphic compositions are always strong and effective, but the thing that excites me most about a Noma Bar illustration is its ability to make the reader to look twice. Your work forces us to use a different part of our brains, the problem solving part, to find a solution to the riddle you've put in front of us. In the Milton Glaser documentary "To Inform and Delight" the design icon describes his own work in a similar way. He explains that he is inspired by music, architecture, fine art, theatre and more. What/who would you say are your creative influences and what about the work inspires you?

Noma Bar: I was born in a small village town in Israel. My 1st artistic memory was the work of local artist Pesah Gutkevich. He had a big tractor garage and when he retired he became a kind of artist.....He created huge sculptures out of his tractor parts & other mechanical parts like: steering wheels, chains,engines etc. He sprayed them all in black. [Gutkevich] became our local hero and his sculptures were all around town. I think that he was the one that showed me the power of 'ready made' & oxymoron, and how an object can live again in different space.

Pictograms have always fascinated me, they tell the whole story without words and they also can have multiple interpretations. If you look at my Michael Jackson illustration i used the 'baby changing' pictogram. I separated the mother from the child & created michael from the baby

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I love faces. Faces are and endless formula that never look the same, 2 eyes, a nose & a mouth - that's so exciting to watch. When you look at a child's face you see one of his parents facial features or both. I can analyze faces for hours, looking into the structure, gaps in between eyes, nose & mouth. I like to do some drawing while I'm traveling on London's Tube. It's a whole world of different faces, all in one line, the faces change all the time.

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Global affairs and politics always influence my work. I was born in Israel, during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. My birth celebration was only with women, as all the men were in the army on the front. So political movements & conflicts were dominate part of my life and still are. I'm doing the commentary (comment & debate) column in the guardian every monday. Getting up to date news online everyday.

I love comedy, humor & silent movies. To have the ability to entertain without any words. That's why I've chosen Charlie Chaplin to be on the cover of my 1st book. I feel that i'm keeping extending & developing this art.

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Nature: Highgate wood (in London) is my big inspiration. Its actually it's part of my daily routine. I'm there every morning for a few hours, try not to sit on the same bench. I need to find new benches so I can surprise myself.

And of course I'm inspired by the obvious ones Russian/polish/Dutch/German design, modernism, Allan Fletcher, Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Smile in the mind 'movement' in the UK.

Tough question but of the hundreds of assignments you've completed for clients and publications all over the world be it a strong political illustration or a playful observation, which piece are you most proud of and why (and which one can you not believe you got past the editors!!)

 It's a hard question....I think that the George W Bush image is one of my favorites, the portrait based on the iconic image of a tortured Iraqi in Abu grahib. I was fascinated by this image in two ways: First the human side and secondly the metaphoric side, it almost looks like a modern crucification and I used it to created the George W bush portrait. It made a big buzz while my 1st book came out.


As for the image I can't believe I got past the was for an article in the Guardian weekend magazine. The story was about a guy with a small penis that was struggling with relationships and such, I thought that the best image would be - A hugh pink space with a tiny hand in the bottom & in the negative space of the fingers I drew a tiny penis. I couldn't believe that such a mainstream newspaper supplement would go with that!


International Man of Illustration! You receive commissions from all over the world but you are based out of your studio in London (thanks to Helen Cowley at Dutch Uncle for these great shots of Noma by photographer Nicola Boccaccini, giving us an insight of your working lifestyle!!) When did this all international work start flooding in for you and was there one job that really opened the door for you to an international audience.

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NB: The big international break happened when 'Guess Who' my 1st book came out. It was a worldwide pre-order in over 30 countries and blogged about all over the world. Then 'Negative Space' came out my 2nd book which created even bigger exposure. Joining [agency] Dutch Uncle continues my journey all around the globe. 

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  • AustinScott

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  • The Editors

    Noma illustrated this week's cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, and Creative Director Richard Turley has some making-of process to share on his blog here: Japanese Earthquake Cover

  • Una Janicijevic


    As an Art Director I've tried working with Noma but our schedules never coincided.

    I will sure keep trying. What a talent.

  • cloudandbanner

    Brilliant work. Love it.

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