Since the inception of her career as an artist, Nancy Burson has been interested in the interaction between art and science and she’s among the first artists to apply digital technology to the genre of photographic portraiture.
Using her own patented method of synthesizing individual photos into entirely new works of art, Burson creates portraits that challenged photographic truth at the birth of digital manipulation: her work is unique because she introduced composite portraits to the electronic age. She is best known for her pioneering work in morphing technologies: using computer programs to change or layer photos to show a new aspect of age, race or character of the original subject. In addition to the fusion of two or more images into a composite, Burson’s work also includes computer-altered images, which use a warping system to change the reality of an image, and aged and de-aged photographs, which project a portrait into the future or into the past.
In collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Burson began to produce computer-generated composite portraits in the late 1970s to early 1980s. She developed a software that could be used to “age” a human face. The work was informed by centuries of social, scientific and pseudo-scientific study of the human face. However, Burson’s attitude toward science was always laced with irony and a keen awareness of the absurdities embedded in many historic concepts, such as race and gender, which we take for granted today. The great anthological show “Composites” explores Burson’s pioneering early work with digital technologies from 1976 (“Method and Apparatus for producing an image of a person’s face at a different age”) to the “Composite” series of 70s and 80s. Digitally combining and manipulating images of often well-known individuals, including movie stars and world leaders, Burson examines political issues, gender, race, and standards of beauty.
To mention is also the “Composite paintings” series done in 1986: she employed her special technic to combine and mix some of the most famous masterpieces of artists of XXth century like Picasso, De Kooning, Rothko, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Newman...