The source image for the present work was the cover of the eponymous 1965 novel by Katherine Foreman, which Prince first scanned, and then enlarged and transferred onto canvas using an ink jet print, leaving a vestige of the anonymous facture that was the hallmark of his earlier oeuvre. After this initial act, however, Prince abandoned any notion of authorial anonymity and instead lavished the background of his canvas with the kind of unadulterated painterly release associated with his famed Abstract Expressionist forebears. Keeping the garish palette, yet radically altering the narrative of the book’s cover, Prince creates an entirely new and unique image in Millionaire Nurse. Through his layers of applied paint, all pictorial content aside from the body of the nurse and the blazing neon title are almost entirely erased, with only faint traces of the author’s name and the strap-line “Would her riches destroy her? – An exciting romance of medicine and high society” enigmatically remaining. A shadowy specter hovering to the left of the nurse takes the place of the male doctor who embraces her in the book’s cover art, and while her physical position is consistent with the source image, Prince has entirely obscured her radiant smile with a thick swathe of brushy white pigment reminiscent of a nurse’s mask. Nameless and unable to communicate, Prince’s central figure in Millionaire Nurse is laid bare for our complete and unabated visual possession. What once read as a tender exchange now abounds with a palpable sense of ominous foreboding.
Provocation and the disruption of his viewer’s preconceived definitions of what constitutes art have been the most consistent leitmotifs of Richard Prince’s decidedly diverse corpus. From the time that he first re-photographed Marlboro cigarette ads for his Cowboy series in 1983, Prince has expressed his artistic impulse through cultural quotation. Archetypes, be they cowboys or nurses, are his protagonists, and his use of them forges an unrelenting bond between his work and the cultural zeitgeist of his given moment. Like a modern day flâneur, Prince identifies the most revealing aspects and impulses of our modern society and reproduces them to the full extent of their seductive splendor. The luscious fuchsia and gold surface of the present work is garishly appealing and the ultimate backdrop for the artist’s jarring portrayal of his central female figure. Like an advertisement meant to instantaneously excite and attract its viewer, Millionaire Nurse begs for us to relish in its sumptuous surface. It is only once we are thus engaged, however, that we begin to truly absorb the pictorial data of the canvas, and Prince’s interventions start to wrench us from the realm of placid consumption into one of pleasurable discomfort. It is this critical disjuncture that makes Richard Prince’s art so endlessly fascinating and Millionaire Nurse so absolute in its exemplification of his distinctive project.
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