Adapted from Negative Space
(Mark Batty Publisher)
By Noma Bar, with an introduction by Buzz Poole, Dateline: September 11, 2009

When a student enrolls in a class to learn the craft of writing there is one adage that cannot be escaped: Show, don’t tell. This ubiquitous sentiment reminds writers of all stripes that their readers do not need to be bludgeoned over the head with the text’s “message.” Rather, writers need to do little more than pepper the scene with details of the moment—Is the room cold? What does the woman do with her hands when she is on the phone? The bread in the toaster is burning. The litter box has not been changed in three weeks—which permit the meaning to form in the reader’s mind.

Visual communication can also “tell” too much, leaving viewers with little to think about because the piece screams its point. Noma Bar’s work, however, does not suffer from such a didactic approach. Using clean, incisive and inspired lines, Bar communicates some of today’s most pressing issues—global warming, war, famine, disease—by showing how these topics look to him, often in the context of a written piece, though they all stand alone as evocative images, at times as disturbing as they are funny.

Bar’s first book, Guess Who? was nothing but portraits of the famous and infamous. The title that doubles as a question reflects how some of the figures’ countenances reveal their identities quite easily, while others make the viewer work for the answer. The same is true of all the images featured in Negative Space. This second book, however, showcases Bar’s singular ability to render complex issues of public policy, global economics, race relations, politics, sex, crime and national identity with deftly selected lines and colors. This is not a book about individuals; it is a book about big ideas.

Gun crime.

Having worked for The New York Times, Wallpaper, The Economist, Esquire, The Guardian, Wired, Time Out and countless other publications, there’s no need to convince anyone that what Bar does has caught people’s attention. How he does it is another question.

Bar referrs to his work as “pain relief.” Art directors and editors present Bar with a brief, which he must convert to an illustration, often on a tight deadline. Reading an article about malaria in Africa or homelessness doesn’t bring anyone joy, but Bar’s work permits readers to take a step back from a topic without walking away from it all together. This is intentional on Bar’s part, as his goal is to engage viewers, and encourage them to use their imaginations.

The big squeeze. This piece was for an article about squeezing oil out of Iraq. The oversized hand communicates the scale of force imposed on the country.

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