Richard Prince Journeys Back to His Beginnings and Himself


Richard Prince is an art world name synonymous with appropriation, provocation, and great success. The artist is especially known for his re-photography, or rather “repeat photography,” which incorporates twists on others’ images to make them his own. His definitive borrowing techniques poignantly blur the lines between advertising and art, and audiences have taken rapt notice. One outlet even went so far as to name Prince “one of the most revered artists of his generation.” Accordingly, his art is as sought after as it is exceptional. In 2005, his Untitled (Cowboy) was auctioned for more than .2 million, and in 2008, Overseas Nurse, 2002 commanded over .4 million at auction. Both sales set new records. Ironically, however, when Prince speaks about his work today, the values he holds closest have little to do with sales or prestige.

Throughout his career, Prince has risen to tremendous professional success, and now, he is focused squarely back to where his artistry began four decades ago. Through High Times, his current exhibition at the Gagosian’s West 21st Street location in New York, the artist evokes his foremost ideals: true believability, full authenticity, and pure enjoyment. Prince’s latest installment of art recalls the journey from his youthful beginnings to broad acclaim, returning back to the artistic vision that spurred his ascent.

Born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1949, Prince first became interested in art as a teenager inspired by the boundless practice and rogue persona of Jackson Pollock. Beginning in 1972, Prince embarked on his “dead” head series, sketching on paper with a Bic pen. By 1974, he had created approximately 20 works, which were scrawled, vivid, and drawn with all the enthusiasm and emerging talent of a young artist. Prince said of these early drawings, “They were probably the first things I did that ever had any soul.” Upon his move to New York City in 1974, Prince began to explore his surroundings and himself, ultimately following other artistic tracks. While working in the tear sheets division of a publishing company, he noticed the clichés and patterns of images and advertisements. He experimented with them as an art form, copying, scanning, and rephotographing the pictures, often making them into collages. This happenstance art practice would distinguish him as a significant and prosperous artist over the following two decades. Prince’s appropriation technique isolates images out of context and not-so-subtly questions ideas of authorship, originality, pop culture, and stereotypes, rocketing him to the sometimes-controversial status of a contemporary art icon.

During his next and very different phase of life, Prince held a new perspective as a father living outside the buzzing, art-world hub of New York City. From this less-sensational vantage, he recognized the openness and raw potential in his children’s artworks that reminded him of his own artistic start. His next series, Hippie Drawings, was based on what he thought free-spirited hippies would likely depict. Works like Untitled (Hippie Drawing), 1998 offer simple aesthetics and subjects illustrated in Crayola colors. Prince then applied these bohemian forms to a catalog of artist Willem de Kooning, merging de Kooning’s stylistic foundation with Prince’s personal artistic quest for validity, connectedness, and inclusion. Years passed until the catalog was viewed by editors at High Times magazine, who, impressed by Prince’s creativity, contacted him to design a magazine cover. Prince knew little of the publication, and only that his friend, the legendary writer and editor Glenn O’Brien, was formerly the editor-at-large. The connection prompted Prince to pursue the magazine’s offer; as a result, several creative opportunities followed. The next year, A Tribe Called Quest producer Q-Tip asked the artist to design album art. During this time, Prince was focused on his next series, Super Group, a body of musically inspired artworks on record sleeves. Instinctively, he chose to grid and paste acrylic paints onto the record sleeves of bands like Sonic Youth and The Kinks, adding drawings, binding the decorated sleeves to canvas, and sometimes writing in the names of bands. Ultimately, Prince omitted the record sleeves and names but continued drawing and painting hippie figures. In the spirit of reflection, he decided that drawing itself brought his art back to the authentic place of its origins.

In the most recent phase of his artistry, Prince began making inkjet reproductions of his Hippie Drawings, modernizing the youthful spirit of his early work through this technology. He entitled the new series High Times to accord the bold, open spirit of its art. Many of the pieces, often generally labeled Untitled, 2017, elaborate on the look of the Hippie Drawings with additional figuration and occasionally black and white tones. Beat Hippie Punk Hop Trance, 2017 provides a panoramic view of Prince’s vibrant, multihued figure-scape. These works are the result of a lifetime of experiences and artwork leading up to the present moment in an incredible artistic journey.

Less than 12 years after his first solo show in New York, Prince exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. His success also has been meteoric: Two of his re-photography prints are among the 10 most expensive photographs ever sold. However, among Prince’s many artworks and exhibitions, his High Times show is truly distinctive. The artist recalled the experience of making these works as being particularly true to who he is at his intuitive core: “It was time. It was time to go back, remind…circle back to the ‘dead’ heads and do something that I was born to do.”

Richard Prince High Times is on view at Gagosian on West 21st Street in New York from November 1 to December 15, 2018.


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