Inspired and fuelled by the fever and energy of her native New York City, Barbara Nessim studied art at the Pratt Institute School of Art at a time when women were struggling to carve out a place in the industry and make their mark through advertising. A far cry from abstract expressionism, the flagship movement in the United States at the time, Barbara Nessim’s work favoured a narrative, symbolic approach dominated by female figures—somewhat unsurprisingly, considering the artist shared an apartment with the feminist journalist Gloria Steinem. Over time, she tapped into her own audacious vision to become an influential illustrator, straddling the boundary of fine and commercial art.
The bold lines, striking colours and powerful sensuality of Barbara Nessim’s work soon caught the eye of some impressive American publications. Flagship magazines like Time, Rolling Stone, Vogue, Redbook and Harper’s Bazaar came knocking at her door for illustrations and portraits of such prominent icons as Joni Mitchell, David Bowie et John Lennon, which often graced the cover. At the same time, she created a number of iconic album covers and nurtured a passion for fashion through shoe and textile design. In 1980, she embraced the potential of computers for art making, which were considered by many to be a fleeting fad. As a result, she became one of the pioneers of this new form of artistic expression.