Submerged in a thick torrent of rich amethyst and violet brushstrokes, Nurse of Greenmeadow is a vivid example of Richard Prince's celebrated Nurse Paintings. Appropriated from the front cover of a pulp romance novella, Prince's nurse has a seductive "push-pull" allure to her-her blonde hair and golden text contrasting sharply with the saturated purple background. Her veiled expression and dripping attire conjure some dastardly misdeed plucked from a B-rated horror movie. Painted with a unique raw and visceral energy, Nurse of Greenmeadow offers a playful subversion of the indulgent, painterly preferences of the Abstract Expressionists. With expressive gestures encompassing the full frame of the canvas, Prince has even painted over the nurse-applying an elusive white mask, dripping with subtle intonations, and bleeding color into her pristine white smock. Clutching a crimson flower, all sense of her character is effaced: the pretty and precious attitude of the original, shrouded in paint. The title of the book appears above her, flashing in the air like a neon advert for a salacious bar. Below the ultraviolet rushes of paint and vestiges of the author's name emerge. Covered in rich golden hues, each word appears just visible through the applied paint surface. Divorced from all context, Nurse of Greenmeadow creates a sensational intrigue, piquing the viewer's interest in what lies beneath the painterly smoke screen.
First debuted to the public in 2003, the Nurse series extends Richard Prince's signature strategy of appropriation developed in the 1970s as part of the Pictures Generation, challenging notions of authorship, authenticity and the vectors that combine to create identity. In Nurse of Greenmeadow, the artist creates the work through a process of scanning and copying of an original book cover, authored by Jane Gorby. This, however, is not the cover of the book by the same title. Instead Prince complicates the visual associations by using the cover art of another contemporary title, not readily identified-here an innocent nurse is transposed into an eerily confident brutish blonde. Prince uses an inkjet printer to mechanically transpose this image, swiftly stripping the original of its background until it features just the single, isolated woman. Scaled up to heroic, life-size proportions, Prince affixes his new image to the canvas, soon after beginning his process of painterly manipulation.
A consummate collector of genre fiction, Prince himself has amassed a large collection of nurse-romance novels over time. These books, published in the 1950s and 1960s as small, portable, softback novels often involved a female heroine embroiled in an impossible love dilemma. In Nurse of Greenmeadow the original cover spells out the steamy plot: "A beautiful nurse finds danger and thrilling romance in a mysterious mansion," (J. Gorby, Nurse of Greenmeadow, 1965). The titles of Prince's other works including Man-Crazy Nurse, Park Avenue Nurse, Nympho Nurse and Tender Nurse all suggest similar stories, and reveal additional facets to the entrenched female stereotype. They also describe the extent to which women in a caring and healing capacity have become sexualized and fetishized objects in parts of the popular imaginary.
Prince's exploration of this mythical 'naughty nurse' dovetails with his longstanding fascination with image constructs and their power. He has approached such super-real, idealized figures from the commercial world repeatedly, especially in pictures in which he appropriated images from advertising. The pictures he created showing cowboys, models and fashionable interiors from magazine ads distilled an unrealistically perfected concept of 'reality' that was originally aimed at making consumers consume. By removing the captions and presenting the images as his own, Prince presented the viewer with an idealized and impossible reality that one could argue attained some degree of beauty, especially with the mercenary advertising copy removed, while paradoxically exposing the mechanics of these constructs. In his pictures of bikers' girlfriends, by contrast, Prince penetrated precisely these myths by showing girls-next-door, often not so beautiful but all the more honest, attacking the same formula of mythification from the other end. Nurse of Greenmeadow, combining the harsh gestural surface, the brutal treatment of the paint and the subject, with what was formerly an idealized image designed specifically for its sexiness, here approaches these constructs from a new perspective that again exposes the strange mechanics of image presentation and interpretation in our consumerist, media-drenched society. He has managed to create an image of a nurse that uncomfortably straddles the domains of sexual fantasy and horror. He has placed a mask on her face, he has covered the painting in a deep violet, and in doing so has made it appear all the more raw, all the more disturbing and all the more subversive.
In thoroughly over-painting the canvas with heavily gestured brushstrokes, Prince deliberately situates himself amongst the generation of American Abstract Expressionists and action painters. Prince, in interview, has often referred to Willem de Kooning as a crucial influence, and it is in the Nurse Paintings that this influence has manifested itself most overtly. The strange violence that has been exerted on the canvas, and therefore to the Nurse of Greenmeadow herself, with paint dripping down the surface, recalls the shock and scandal with which de Kooning's celebrated paintings of women were received in the late 1940s and early 1950s, puncturing the myth of the woman in art. Gone was the smoothness of so many sculptures, the ivory-skinned curves of so many paintings, and in its place was something jarringly alive, current and anxiously emotional. De Kooning, in short, had sought to capture the reality of the woman, where the nurse literature promoted a new tawdry myth. By uniting the gesturality of de Kooning's paintings with the subject matter of those books, Prince presents the viewer with a strange, ambivalent new image that both emphasizes and punctures the sexual stereotypes of the raunchy nurse, as well as that of the macho Abstract Expressionist painter.
Through this process, Prince makes an unlikely and playfully subversive union between two opposing artistic genres. Conflating Abstract Expressionism with the lowbrow sensationalism of the vintage romance novel, Prince illuminates two entrenched gender stereotypes: that of the macho American painter and the seductive cipher of femininity, the "naughty nurse."