Richard Prince art is known for its use of appropriated imagery, taking inspiration from consumer culture and challenging our concepts of authenticity and ownership.
The artist may be best known for his Nurse Paintings inspired by romance novels, which featured on a Sonic Youth album album cover and influenced Marc Jacobs.
While Prince primarily works as a photographer, he has explored various different media, including painting, digital manipulation and even three-dimensional work, using readymade materials such as car hoods.
Finding his artistic style
Born in 1949 in Panama to American parents, Richard Prince moved back to the US in his youth and attended Nasson College, a private liberal arts college in Maine. Growing up in the 1960s, he embraced the era’s counter-cultures, even attending Woodstock. In 1973, however, he achieved his dream of moving to New York City.
One of his first jobs was working in the tear sheet department for Time Inc. He was responsible for clipping articles from magazines to distribute within the company. Left with piles of images and advertisements, he began to identify recurring themes.
These repeated clichés and advertising motifs became a source of artistic inspiration. Prince began to dig through pages of unwanted magazine ads and experiment with them, in a time-consuming process not unlike beachcombing,
Taking inspiration from advertising
As an avid collector of American subcultures, Richard Prince takes inspiration from advertising and entertainment, much like other Pop Artists before him, including Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.
He photographs, copies, scans and manipulates images from popular media, redefining ideas of ownership and authorship. As an avid collector of art, books, manuscripts, and odd objects like cancelled checks from celebrities, Prince took it upon himself to chronicle and retell tropes of American popular culture.
“I don’t see any difference now between what I collect and what I make… It’s become the same.”
His early 1980s ‘Cowboys’ series featured re-photographed Marlboro ads, with text cropped out to create close-ups of mythical cowboy figures. For his ‘Nurse’ works, first exhibited in 2003, he transferred scanned paperback covers onto canvas and painting over the prints. His ‘Girlfriends’ series used similar strategies, appropriating images of biker girls from motorcycle and car magazines.
Focusing on clichés and stereotypes of American culture, such as the lone cowboy or the sexy nurse, he both celebrates and exposes these figures as popular constructs.
Richard Prince art is the birthplace of rephotography
Prince’s methods of appropriating mass media images led him to be known as part of the “Pictures Generation.” Alongside artists like Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine, he explores ways in which generic images hold meaning, deconstructing popular advertising and commercial photography.
From 1977 onwards, Prince established himself as one of the foremost pioneers of appropriation in contemporary art, naming this genre ‘rephotography’.
“Rephotography is a technique for stealing (pirating) already existing images, simulating rather than copying them, ‘managing’ rather than quoting them. A re-photo is essentially an appropriation of what’s already real about an existing image and an attempt to add or additionalise this reality onto something more real.”
By appropriating these images, he highlights the widespread acceptance of marketing rhetoric, stripping it of its context to make the familiar seem strange. By separating the image from its normal environment and reproducing the clichés of advertising in the gallery space, Prince invites viewers to consider commercialism and consumption.
Richard Prince’s artistic practices have courted controversy, leading to multiple lawsuits and fuelling fierce debates around copyright, intellectual property and theft within the art world.
In 2014, Prince unveiled his controversial New Portraits series, which focused on social media as a new method of artistic appropriation. The series consisted of blown up screenshots of Instagram selfies, the inkjet image printed on canvases measuring six by four feet. Prince added ‘Instagram comments,’ complicating the appropriated images further. The installation was shown in New York’s Gagosian Gallery in 2014, but resurfaced in the media when pieces sold for $100,000 at the Frieze Art Fair.
Prince’s legal standing is usually solidified by his modifications of the original works – after all, much of contemporary art is built in some way on historical or popular imagery. By removing iconic imagery from its context, Prince argues he can create new, more valuable art.
Where to invest in Richard Prince art
Richard Prince art is currently held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Goetz Collection in Munich and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among other respected institutions.
If you are looking to buy art by Richard Prince, look no further. Maddox Gallery is delighted to represent the artist’s work, and share some of his pieces with our visitors. Speak with one of our expert Sotheby’s trained art consultants to learn more.