Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life at the V&A
Barbara Nessim (b.1939) is an American illustrator renowned for her simple yet and colourful, eye-catching line drawings, which have featured on the cover of publications such as Rolling Stone and Time magazine and in advertisements for Levi’s Jeans and Ralph Lauren. She is also regarded as a pioneer of digital illustration, one of the first artists to produce work using a computer during the early 1980s. In a new retrospective at the V&A entitled An Artful Life viewers are presented with an overview of Nessim’s work, tracing its design and development from the 1960s to the present day.
There is a plethora of work in different media, from prints and ceramics to collage and photographs, however the emphasis does seem to be on her computer-generated pieces, such as Ode to the Statue of Liberty (1982-84 – produced using a Norpak system). As Nessim explains in a short film commissioned by the V&A, the iconic image was arrived at through experimentation and a learning process.
Another interesting example is the collection of RAM Mini Books (1991), which were the outcome of her exhibition Random Access Memories at Rempire Fine Arts & Gallery in New York. The exhibition included an installation where visitors could use Apple computers to produce custom artist books.With a choice of flag for the cover and a random selection of images to fill the pages, book was printed onto a single sheet.
Flags and the idea of nationality are recurring themes in Nessim’s work. In American Lives 1 (1989), the flag of the United States is constructed from many small images of American people performing actions and going about their daily lives.
As one of the first female professional illustrators to be working in America in the 1960s, Nessim has a keen interest in feminism and many of her pieces explore gender roles and women in the workplace. Superman Carrying a Girl with Green Shoes (1969) questions the sexual stereotype of “women being carried away to their dream life, home, family, and security by their very own superman.”
An Artful Life provides a vibrant introduction to the works of Barbara Nessim and is accompanied by a book of the same title, to be released in February 2013. The exhibition can be recommended to anyone interested in early digital art, contemporary illustration or feminism.
Barbara Nessim: An Artful Life is at the V&A until the 19th May 2013. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.