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Barbara Nessim

Digital Artist

Visual artist Barbara Nessim’s work is in major museums in the US and abroad. London’s Victoria & Albert museum holds her archive. Her many honors include her 2020 induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame and from her Alma Mata, Pratt Institutes’ Lifetime Achievement Award (2015). She was an early pioneer, in 1982, using digital imagery to create art. Her work has graced the covers of Time, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times magazine to name a few over the last fifty years.

Nessim is an artist whose daring and prolific work, spanning six decades, defies narrow categorization. Her artistic production has straddled fine art and illustration, pushing against and reshaping the boundaries of the often-rigid separation between the two fields. With her artworks on paper informing her commercial illustrations, Nessim always begins with line or color, independent of medium, context or application. Her vibrant colorful imagery is figurative, conceptual and deeply intuitive. Its power and enduring relevance lies in its fusion of skillful technique, social engagement and pop culture resonance. Bronx natives, Nessim’s artworks, as her biography, are the story of the evolving gender equity and shifting cultural landscapes of New York City.  Her works have been exhibited and collected internationally, including at the V&A and the Bard Graduate Center Gallery. Nessim received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Pratt Institute in 2015 and was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2020.

Alongside her artistic practice, Nessim’s academic career began at the School of Visual Arts in 1967, where she taught until leaving to chair the Illustration Department at Parsons School of Design in 1991. Her pioneering impulse propelled her to the forefront of computer-generated graphic art in the early 1980s, by way of a video residency at TIME Inc. and later through an affiliation with IBM. In the 1990s, her expansive Random Access Memories series, which treats issues of population growth, immigration and diversity, positioned her among the first artists to drive illustrated book design into the digital sphere. Further evolving her use of digital media, two bodies of work – The Model Project (2008 – 2009) and Chronicles of Beauty (2009 – 2010) – combine analogue collage and digital printing techniques, using contemporary fashion imagery to address the thorny history of ideals of femininity and masculinity.

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