Barbara Nessim

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Barbara Nessim
Photo Of Barbara Nessim.jpg
Born1939 (age 81–82)
New York City, New York

Barbara Nessim (born 1939) is an American artist, illustrator, and educator.

Early life[edit]

Nessim was born in New York City in 1939.[1] Motivated by art from a young age, she studied at the Pratt Institute in New York from 1956 to 1960. Like her contemporary, Jacqui Morgan, she briefly worked in textile design after graduating from Pratt, then decided to turn her efforts towards illustration work. In 1960 she won a "Special Mention" from The Society of Illustrators' 2nd annual competition for her innovative monotype etchings series "Man and Machine". It was also the cover of Communication Arts Magazine's 2nd issue. She started receiving commissions from magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Esquire, all the while continuing to work as a studio artist creating work for herself. Nessim's childhood ambition was to be an artist, but it was only after befriending Robert Weaver and receiving encouragement to enter the New York Society of Illustrators show in 1960 that she became a professional artist.[1]


Nessim was one of very few full-time professional women illustrators working in the United States during the 1960s;[2] others include Jacqui Morgan, who began her illustration career in 1967, and Lorraine Fox who created illustrations in the 1950s working out of the Charles E. Cooper art studio. However, she was able to carve a niche for her work in the competitive graphic design field, illustrating record album covers, calendars, and magazine covers for major publications such as Rolling Stone, Time, Ms, New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, Show and Audience.[1] She established her own graphic design firm in 1980, Nessim and Associates, with a group of fellow illustrators to work on corporate projects.[3]

Nessim produced many works in ink and watercolor, later using computer graphics, and has been teaching computer art since 1980. Nessim has taught at the School of Visual Arts, Fashion Institute of Technology, and Pratt Institute, all in New York.

Her works have been exhibited worldwide, including at the Kunst Museum and The Louvre. The Museum of Modern Art in Sweden, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest all hold work of hers in their permanent collections.

Digital art pioneer[edit]

Barbara Nessim was one of the first artists to seriously pursue digital art and illustration. In 1980 she was invited to participate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Visible Language Workshop (VLW), a program designed to carry out experiments for advanced graphics research. Nessim was unable to attend the VLW, but her conversations with MIT staff about the possibilities of computer generated art intrigued her.[4] As a result, she searched for a computer to work on near her home in New York City. Nessim found a sympathetic sponsor at Time Incorporated's Time Video Information Services (TVIS). Time had computers, and invited her to be an Artist in Residence. She was “allowed to work on the computers from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., and went there for a period of two years until 1983.” [5] Using manuals to teach herself to navigate the complicated programs, she became proficient at creating computer art and assembled an impressive body of digital work. Since then Nessim has used the computer in her work as an artist, illustrator, teacher, and innovator. Digital technology has provided new ways to create and exhibit her work, including “35mm slides, CIBA-chromes, videos, early non-archival inkjet prints, Polaroid, as well as pastel hand-colored tiled larger artworks, 3-D Stereo-pair works, very large modular works hand-painted with acrylics, unique archival inkjet prints printed on canvas, and ‘randomly’ moving software art shown on a wall-mounted monitor.”[5] Her 1991 Random Access Memories (RAM) show at the Rempire Gallery in NYC had, as part of the larger exhibition, an installation where the participants could produce and take away their own unique catalog of Nessim's work. it predicted the widespread digital "print on demand" industry that is changing the nature of publishing as we know it. In 2009 Nessim launched The Model Project, a “cutting edge view of fashion’s hold on women” expressed in a series of large scale collages printed digitally on aluminum panels.[6] The two-year project was a collaboration with a photographer, who photographed a fashion model in Nessim’s Manhattan studio loft. Nessim deconstructed the images, “juxtaposing cutouts of lips, hair, breasts and legs with jewelry and clothes to re-examine prevailing ideas about desire, beauty, fashion and commerce.”[7] Nessim’s permanent installation, Chronicles of Beauty (an extension of The Model Project) was commissioned for New York City’s Eventi Hotel. Its central piece, A Current Past, is a 28' x 12' digital print on aluminum. Although she is smitten with digital technology, Nessim has not abandoned hands-on painting and drawing skills. She has employed both traditional and digital methods to produce her work: “I love working hands-on and I love working with the computer. They are two very different things. It would all depend on the approach I wanted to take for each artwork I was doing.”[8] She acknowledged the difficulties illustrators have faced in adapting to the technology in a 2003 interview: “it is challenging to be constantly learning something new all the time. It is a bottomless pit. But that said, using new cutting edge tools and media opens up the creative process to new possibilities you cannot achieve using traditional methods.”[9]

In early 2013, the Victoria & Albert Museum opened an extensive retrospective entitled Barbara Nessim, An Artful Life.[2] The exhibition spanned Nessim’s works from the 1960s to the 2000s, and it also included an interview with the artist.[10] All of the hundred artworks shown became part of the V&A's permanent collection.[11] A book of the same title, published by Abrams, was released in February 2013.[12] The V&A display traveled to the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York City (9/15/2014 - 1/11/2015), where the curator, Douglas Dodds, vastly expanded the show's scope to occupy 3 floors of the gallery. Nessim also recorded a commentary for many of the works in the exhibition, and this was made available online.[13]


Nessim's work has been published in several books, which include:

  • David Galloway, ed. Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life (New York: Abrams / London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013)
  • Sketchbook 66 (Nessim & Associates, 2010, ISBN 9780982236703)
  • Barbara Nessim: Black Truths, White Lies : Interactive Installation, Wall Pieces, Projections, Web-casting (Bitforms Gallery, 2003)
  • Sketchbook Selections: 1996-2005 (Nessim & Associates, 2007, ISBN 9780980207811)
  • Barbara Nessim: Random Access Memories : an Interactive Computer Art Exhibition (Sangre De Cristo Arts and Conference Center, 1991)
  • Sketch Book (Barbara Nessim, 1975)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Souter, Nick and Tessa (2012). The Illustration Handbook: A Guide to the World's Greatest Illustrators. Oceana. p. 259. ISBN 9781845734732.
  2. ^ a b Kino, Carol (21 March 2013). "Illustrating Her Own Narrative". The New York Times. p. 18-AR. Retrieved 23 March 2013.
  3. ^ Heller, Steven and Lita Talarico (1987). Design career: practical knowledge for beginning illustrators and graphic designers. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. p. 119. ISBN 9780442232634.
  4. ^ Charles Hively, Icon: Barbara Nessim. 3x3: The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration, Volume 1, Number 3.
  5. ^ a b Hively. Icon: Barbara Nessim.
  6. ^ Peggy Roalf, Barbara Nessim’s Model Project at DFN. Design Arts Daily. 30 November 2009.
  7. ^ Roalf. Barbara Nessim’s Model Project at DFN.
  8. ^ Anne Telford, ed. Campaign Spotlight: Barbara Nessim. Fall 2011, vol. 13
  9. ^ Charles Hively. Barbara Nessim, Educator: Illustrator of the Year. 2003 Student Illustrators Annual.
  10. ^ Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life. V&A, 2013.
  11. ^ Victoria and Albert Museum. Search the Collections
  12. ^ David Galloway, ed. Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life. New York: Abrams; London: V&A, 2013.
  13. ^ Barbara Nessim Speaks About Art and Life. Bard Graduate Center, 2014.