In the present work, Prince combined the Joke Paintings and the appropriation of found imagery, among two of his most important practices. In 1985, Prince began what would become his most recognized series of art, known as the Joke Paintings. Among his early works are handwritten jokes, which grew into more substantial pieces when he began to incorporate the jokes with bold text, color, and images. Prince’s jokes tend to meld seeming banality with satire, often poking fun at family, religion and his relationships with women. He culls his subject matter from the detritus of American media, finding inspiration and imagery in the blue-collar, consumer driven and image hungry products of our local television and pop-culture publications. Fashion, women, sex, cars, film and food advertisements are all inspiration for Prince’s subject matter. The artist toys with ideas of authorship and originality by re-contextualizing his visual icons and idioms. His works are filled with contradictions: intensely ironic but still sincere, mimetic but surprisingly original and consistently both banal and shocking.
At heart, Prince is an editor of images, borrowing and transforming through juxtaposition and manipulation to re-contextualize the familiar and banal. In 1974, Prince was working the nightshift for Time-Life magazines and clipping editorials to assist the staff-writer’s research. While dismantling text from thousands of advertisements, the artist noticed the endless patterns inherent in the detritus of American media. In Untitled, Prince extends his visual appropriation to medical-romance novels. Like the Warhol, Prince compels his viewers to consider the mechanics behind an increasingly image-dominated culture: our relationship to specific typologies, stereotypes, idealized notions of the everyday and our relationship to pictures themselves. Prince tests our definitions of art, commerce, and culture. Here, with a Duchampian impulse towards relocating the familiar, Prince de-contextualizes the joke and blows it up to a scale that makes the words all but illegible. There is a tension here between reading and seeing; it's almost impossible to decipher the joke itself; the text instead becomes a sort of glyph, something strange and pictorial. Prince creates new environments for text, unexpected two-dimensional habitats in which words are translated into images. "The joke paintings," Prince explained, "are abstract. Especially in Europe, if you can't speak English" (Steve Lafreniere, "Richard Prince talks to Steve Lafreniere – '80 Then – Interview", ArtForum, March 2003).
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