On Richard Prince

Richard Prince has been all over the fashion sphere in the past few seasons. With collaborations with Marni and most recently, Louis Vuitton and W magazine, I decided it was time to do a little research on the man and find out what he's all about. I'm not going to write out any lengthy biography or anything of the sort, instead I just picked what I thought to be perfect examples of his work and ones that seem to be obviously influencing his work for Louis Vuitton.

Spiritual America, a retrospective of his work is currently on view at the Guggenheim museum here in New York City until January 9, 2008.

Untitled (Woman's Eyelashes), 1983 and Untitled (Cowboy), 1989

In the 1980's Richard Prince started out by appropriating found images from advertising, magazines and books among other things, and photographing them. By doing so, he forced the viewer to attach their own meaning to them and then become part of a different dialogue. The Marlboro Man becomes a different man when separated from the Marlboro logo, he's just a man, alone, on a horse, trying to find where he fits in society or perhaps just trying to find his way home.

Untitled, 2000 and Madame Butterfly, 2006

His drawings are childlike and filled with energy. They represent a different side of him, but I think that they fit in with the rest of his oeuvre in feeling. His work seems to always be characterized by a sense of humor and these are definitely a lighter side. The mixed media piece on the left is a little bit darker in theme and goes back to appropriating images and changing their meaning through context. The drawings popped up in the Spring 2007 Marni collection as t-shirts and tote bags and are still available at the Marni website.

Marni, Spring 2007

Debutante Nurse, 2004 and Nurses Dormitory, 2002

Most recently he has been best known for a series of paintings of nurses culled from the covers of cheap pulp novels. They have been blown up and the background has been obscured so all you see is the figure and the title of the book. This was most recently seen in the cover of Sonic Youth's Sonic Nurse, released in 2004. I am noting this because as you may or may not know, Marc Jacobs is close friends with Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and even appeared in the video for Sugar Kane, off of their excellent album, Daydream Nation. I'm not saying that his whole collaboration with Prince was because of the Sonic Youth connection but it's definitely an influence.

Sonic Youth, Sonic Nurse 2004

Untitled, 2006 and O'Sexual, 2004

Prince also created a series of paintings that were jokes written out on canvas or in the case above, etched in wood, which also stem from his interest in pop culture and magazines in particular. He published a book with a collection of cartoons both appropriated and original, titled Richard Prince: Jokes and Cartoons (what else?).
The SpongeBob piece was part of an exhibit at the Barbara Gladstone gallery in NYC in 2005; the pen and ink illustration is on a kind of "light box" with speakers at either end playing a loop from the band Wilco over and over again. The title and the work stem from then-recent accusations from Christian groups that SpongeBob Squarepants was gay and planning some kind of homosexual-ization of children in America.

Which brings us to Marc Jacobs Spring 2008 collection from Louis Vuitton. When I reviewed it about a month ago I took a particular liking to the bags with the New Yorker-style cartoons on it and now I understand where they are coming from. I think the collection makes a little more sense to me, now that I know more about Prince, although I did get the nurse references at the beginning of the show (thanks to my unhealthy obsession with Sonic Youth). At the end of the show, Marc came out carrying a lunchbox with an image of SpongeBob Squarepants on it and I was always baffled by it. Now it's a little clearer why, and that also explains the appearance of a certain shade of yellow best known as the color of my favorite underwater creature.

For more info:
Review of his 2005 exhibit at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in NYC.
Information on some of the published books about his work.
Q&A with Richard Prince from New York Magazine.

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