Richard Prince (b. 1949) was born in the Panama Canal Zone. He spends his time between a farmhouse in the foothills of the Catskills Mountains, and a townhouse in New York.
As a painter and photographer, Richard Prince’s creative strategy has always relied on the process of appropriation. In the mid-20th Century, coinciding with the incoming force of consumerism, post-modern appropriation in art began to adopt a new cynical and carefully calculated raison d’être. Once a process dedicated to a flattering homage of an individual’s artistry, Prince forces people to reconsider an established system of values. In doing so, he prompts the viewer to renegotiate the meanings of the original piece in a different context through a reimagination of the original imagery.
From 1977 onwards, Prince established himself as one of the foremost pioneers of appropriation in contemporary art, paving the way to a facet of the genre which he came to name ‘rephotography’. In an excerpt from his ‘writings’, published the same year, Prince proposes that “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”. His former years spent working at Time Inc. meant providing the various magazines owned by the company with tear sheets of articles. Instead of discarding the advertisements which he clipped around, Prince cropped out the text, refocused the images and began framing them like fine art. This formative experience of excavating images from the mass media, and subsequently countering their original significance would be the genesis and future direction of Prince’s artistic oeuvre.
Prince’s works are led through multiple degrees of appropriation before they reach their final stage. One particularly poignant example is Spiritual America. The controversial piece depicts a naked ten-year old Brooke Shields, taken by Gary Gloss and appropriated by Prince in 1983. The title is derived from a 1923 photo of the same name by Alfred Stieglitz, a graphic close up of a stallion’s genitals.
Despite the scope and longevity of Prince’s career, it was for a long time possible to discern a single distinctively anti-commercial angst looming throughout the content of his works. An avid collector and perceptive chronicler of American subcultures and their role in the construction of an American identity, the Cowboy series most pertinently demonstrates such anxieties. By appropriating these images, the artist highlights the way in which the identity and history of the American icon and the American West have been methodically designed for the investment of the American consumer.
In his most recent series titled New Portraits, Prince implements social media as a new method of artistic appropriation. Each piece is an inkjet image of an Instagram page — often a young girl posing semi-naked or taking a provocative selfie — and printed on canvases measuring six by four feet. In these works, Prince observes the ways people present themselves and their social groups to the world. What Prince adds in the Instagram comments complicates the already disconcerting images. Delving deeper than ever before into contemporary anxieties of privacy and copyright, Prince transforms these images so they appear to undergo a form of sick psychic-artistic transubstantiation where they no longer belong to the original makers.