Barbara Nessim was the last person I’d expect to be a trailblazer. The famed professional illustrator was immeasurably friendly as she led me on a tour of her retrospective exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center, on display until January 11th. Usually those individuals at the cutting edge, especially in art and architecture, have a subtle aggressive or tactical air, some trait that has enabled them to beat out the rest. In contrast, the still-energetic 76 year-old Nessim led a successful career as a freelance illustrator when few women were professionals.
More impressively, she was an early adopter of graphics software for art, something most artists take for granted in an Abode-drive world. During the tour, it seemed her digital forays were spurred by pure curiosity and the desire to try new things, an urge also seen in her explorations into fashion, sculpture, and book design. She told me that, “even on my deathbed – wait, wait, one more thing to do!”
The decades of her work, on display at the Bard Graduate Center, evinces how she used her personal artistic explorations to explore new styles and ideas that would quickly appear in her public and professional works. As someone who toes the line between my passion for writing and the profession of journalism, Nessim’s successful balancing act spoke to me deeply, but this collection is impressive by anyone’s standards.
Top Image: Barbara Nessim. John Lennon Remembered, for the October 20, 1988 cover of Rolling Stone, 1988. Gouache. Victoria & Albert Museum, E.63-2013.
PS. For those interested in even earlier digital art, see Douglas Dodd’s book on the subject. Dodd, who expertly curated the exhibition, also led my tour with Nessim.