“Dictators are always a subject for illustrators. It’s almost the only way to do something against them. And this has a long history,” says the London-based Israeli graphic designer, illustrator and artist Noma Bar.
Bar has drawn Hitler, Stalin, Muammar Gadhafi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and even Donald Trump. The former U.S. president was not officially a dictator, but was blessed with some of the character traits typical of the other men on the list, at least when it comes to his appearance and body language. “He is a figure that is very amusing to illustrate,” says Bar.
Since 2009, Bar has also been dealing with Russia and its omnipotent ruler, President Vladimir Putin. His tools are the color red, a map of the gigantic country, weapons of war and a bear with the face of Putin himself. “I’m not a Putinologist,” he says, “but every time Putin comes up, I do something with him.”
Bar has already designed three covers for the Italian weekly magazine Internazionale, including one published after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In 2016, he illustrated Putin’s eyes, nose and mouth using a snake. “That was the period when it emerged that he interfered in the American elections. The snake is a clear reflection of Putin.”
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Bar’s most recent illustration of Putin shows him with fighter jets for eyes, bombs for nostrils and a mouth consisting of two dead bodies. “He’s a complex figure to illustrate. A bit like Bibi, Bar says, referring to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “He has a fascinating face with a few characteristics, but very hard to get to an abstract [representation] with him, like with other figures. He doesn’t have Hitler’s mustache or Trump’s hair.”
Although the communist era ended long ago, there is a great deal of red in the illustrations of Putin. “The moment you bring in blue, white, it becomes a bit French or American,” Bar explains.
“Red Russia is still in our minds, although it’s theoretically no longer red. And red is the color of other things. It’s blood, passion, violence. It would be strange to show Putin in pink or sky-blue or yellow. When I began to deal with Russia and Putin I very quickly came to red. It conveys evil,” Bar says.