he art of appropriation has been debated time and time again within the fine art and design communities, and yet I often hear the conversation revolving around the work of Banksy, Andy Warhol or worse yet, Shepard Fairey (whose work, well, let’s say I don’t care for it).
Sorely missing from the conversation is Richard Prince whose appropriated images resonate on a level closer to high art than Warhol’s pop or Fairey’s icons. Prince was working at Time-Life during the 80s when he first began to re-photograph the ads for the various products his job required him to work with each day. And by simply cropping out the logos and copy, his Ektacolor photographs resulted in the now famous Girlfriend and Marlboro Man series.
Unlike Warhol’s or even Banksy’s obvious intent with appropriated images, Prince forces the viewer to search a little deeper for meaning. Ultimately, his work is an examination of American culture and its byproducts, but even that statement might be a little too deep.
“I’ve never felt that I had to put out work that I actually liked—just because it’s out there doesn’t mean that I have to stand behind it.”
Prince later incorporated painting into his repertoire by applying his usual theory of subject over medium. His series Jokes had me perplexed for days until it clicked. Simple bar room jokes painted onto canvases, removed from both their original purpose and environment giving the viewer a completely objectified view of their contents. At first ignored, they now sell up to $700,000.
His Nurse paintings consisting of painted renditions of covers of vintage nurse-themed romance paperbacks seemed to repeat his early experience with his Marlboro Man series, bringing the usual criticism from all the usual suspects. But again, accepting his use of the obvious, almost meaningless imagery he appropriates is key to understanding and ultimately enjoying his work.