"I went to see a psychiatrist. He said, 'Tell me everything.' I did, and now he's doing my act."
A maker of photographs, drawings, paintings and sculptures, as well as a writer, Richard Prince's habit of re-photographing existing photographs (initiated in the late 1970's) helped spawn the appropriation craze of the 80's. The artist himself is best known for his deadpan recycling of magazine and newspaper images that range through the highs and lows of popular culture. References to sex, drugs, rock-and- roll, alcoholism and the movies frequently give his efforts a dark and familiar undercurrent. But his relentless replication of found images also has its esoteric side and continually questions definitions of art, originality and artistic technique.
Born on August 6, 1949, in the Panama Canal Zone, then a United States territory, Richard Prince moved to a suburb of Boston in 1954. In 1973, after applying to the San Francisco Art Institute without success, he moved to New York, where he became familiar with Conceptual art. Working in the Time-Life Building as a preparer of magazine clippings, he became aware of the possibilities of advertising imagery—all that would be left after he cut out articles—as an element in his art. Early works such as Untitled (Cigarettes) (1978–79) and Untitled (three women looking in the same direction) (1980) consist of found advertising images, rephotographed and juxtaposed with one another by the artist. The deliberately artificial look of the photographs linked Prince to contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Jack Goldstein, who were also using photography to blur the line between reality and artifice. Prince's decontextualization of found photographs and inquiry into consumer culture also situated him alongside emerging appropriation artists such as Barbara Kruger and Sherrie Levine.Prince was also involved at this time in the downtown New Wave scene; he played in bands and was a regular at rock venues such as the Mudd Club. During the early 1980s, Prince developed a process that resulted in grids of juxtaposed images, which he referred to as "gangs." In works such as Entertainers (1982–83), he joined together multiple 35 mm slides of images from advertisements and magazines to form one larger negative, from which the final print was made. Each "gang" focused on a particular pop-culture motif of desire, including car hoods, bikers, pornography, cowboys, and sunsets. He also began taking his own photographs. For the Girlfriends series (1992), Prince photographed women who had appeared in biker magazines, re-creating their magazine images.
While Prince has exhibited frequently in galleries, his work has also appeared in magazines such as Purple and, more recently, W. He has also produced paintings and prints. In the late 1980s, for example, he began painting texts of jokes against abstract, often monochromatic backgrounds, as in The Wrong Joke (1989). My Usual Procedure (1988) is a silkscreen of a newspaper cartoon. He also began painting directly onto found materials such as tires and car hoods, as in Untitled (Hoods) (1989), producing hybrids of painting and sculpture. In recent years, he has begun to photograph around his home in upstate New York, concentrating on mundane suburban details.
Since his first solo exhibition, at Artists Space in New York in 1980, Prince has had shows at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1983), Le Magasin, Centre National d'Art Contemporain in Grenoble (1988), IVAM Centre del Carme in Valencia (1989), Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (1992), Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld, Germany (1997), MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles (2000), Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel (2001), and Kunsthalle Zürich (2002), among other venues. His work has appeared in the Wiener Internationale Biennale (1981), Bienal de São Paolo (1983), Whitney Biennial (1985, 1987, 1997, and 2004), Biennale of Sydney (1986), Venice Biennale (1988), Art et Publicité 1890–1990 at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1990), Documenta (1992), Around 1984: A Look at Art in the Eighties at P.S. 1 in New York (2000), and watery, domestic at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (2003). He lives and works in upstate New York.