One of the most intriguing exhibitions at this year's London Design Festival -- which kicks off on Saturday -- is Noma Bar’s Cut It Out at Outline Editions, for which the Israeli graphic designer has built a full-sized die-cut machine in the shape of the dog graphic on the cover of his book Negative Space.
Based on a shoe-sole cutting machine from China, it can cut paper, rubber or wood up to 2cm thick into one of 10 different designs by Noma – so visitors can cut their own artworks, mixing materials in positive and negative space.
“Normally my digital illustrations are published in magazines or on book covers or as screenprints,” saya Noma. “Here my hand-drawings have become digital illustrations, then a die-cut template, which can then be put inside the machine to cut paper, plastic, wood and the like. It’s great to see the journey as my designs become objects."
Noma came to create the machine after creating two illustrations for Outline Editions's exhibition Joy of Spring in March.
"I had a random conversation with [Outline Editions'] Camilla [Parsons] that I wanted to physically cut my illustration to build a negative space machine. This lead to me spending the last six months working on it."
Noma first started working with the concept of 'negative space', where the outline around an image is used to create a separate form, in 2002 when he was asked to create an editorial illustration of David Walliam's 'I'm a Lady' character from Little Britain.
"I used two pictograms of a lady," he says. "[based on] toilet pictograms. In the negative space between the legs I put a penis. If you look at the shape of the pictogram you can easily create a huge erection."
From this unusual beginning he developed the form, primarily in his editorial illustrations -- though it did ocassionally leak into his designs for advertising. Noma says that being placed next to editorial suits this type of illustration well, as the reader spends time on the page reading the article -- allowing the sometimes hidden image in the negative space to appear gradually.
While drawing on a tradition of optical illusions, he says he has no interest in creating illusions for their own sake. For him, the negative space isn't just about hiding images for its own space -- but about telling a story. This has taken him beyond the humour of his earlier pieces into more serious subjects such as war and death. Noma says that he didn't make a conscious choice to move into these areas.
"I was commissioned to do such pieces," he says. "Why was I was chosen? There’s a simple language [to negative space], a sweeter pill to digest heavier subjects. There's something very naïve about the shapes, and it’s about using that to represent something heavier. It's not my use of negative space, but the [simple] look and feel of the illustrations."
Despite the apparent simplicity of his work, Noma says that keeping his illustrations clear and clean is a very involved process.
"It’s harder to create simpler forms," he says. "I spend more time [on my illustrations] than people who draw traditional forms."
Cut It Out runs from September 17-30 at Outline Editions, 94 Berwick St, London, W1F 0QF.