Richard Prince (b. 1949)
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 1… Read more
Richard Prince (b. 1949)

Wayward Nurse

Richard Prince (b. 1949)
Wayward Nurse
signed, titled and dated '"WAYWARD NURSE" R Prince 2005' (on the overlap)
inkjet print and acrylic on canvas
40 x 27in. (101.6 x 68.6cm.)
Executed in 2005
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium

Lot Essay

Prince's Wayward Nurse shows what appears to be some form of titillating, salacious image of a nurse. Painted in 2005, this picture from Prince's Nurse Paintings series marked a new development in his art. Formerly, his pictures had usually been photographs or had involved words painted to form jokes, presented in a deadpan manner on a monochrome. However, Prince's origins were as a painter, and it is to painting that he has time and again returned, as he has here. As in the earliest of the Joke Paintings, which had featured cartoons copied from newspapers and magazines alongside their captions, Wayward Nurse combines image and text. The title of a book has been appropriated and is now also the title of the work, emblazoned across the top though smeared by Prince's subsequent layerings of paint, an indication of the complexity of his attitudes towards the transmission of visual information. In the acrylics that Prince has applied to the surface of Wayward Nurse, there is a veil of artistic intervention, of obfuscation, between the content - the words and the nurse - and the viewer.

In Wayward Nurse, Prince has taken an image appropriated from a cover for an old book from the Venus Press, as is the title itself. A notorious bibliophile, Prince has assembled a library that contains an eclectic range of the important, the precious, the literary and pulp alike. The nurse as a figure of sexual fantasy has had an entire literature industry spring up around her. The titles of Prince's Nurse paintings are taken from such novels that Prince has managed to collect, although he has often chopped and changed the various details, as here, putting the title of one book with a cover image from another, further disrupting the information process of the picture. The covers provide an insight into a media-created construct, the nurse as object of sexual desire. She is now seen as a sexist myth, an ideal painted for the cover of a book. The desirability of the nurse was originally concentrated by design in order to increase the desirability of the book.

The presence and relevance of the nurse fantasy-myth in the present day was demonstrated when Prince photographed supermodel Kate Moss in front of one of his Nurse Paintings. In the picture, she herself was wearing a shiny, easywipe nurse outfit that spoke of a practicality that had little to do with the medical... Thus the fetishisation of the nurse is shown to continue to the present day. Its power was reflected in the fact that the image met with some heated anger and protest in certain corners, offended at what they perceived of as an outmoded view of nurses and nursing.

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, idealised figures from the commercial world again and again, especially in pictures in which he appropriated images from advertising. The pictures he created showing cowboys, models and fashionable interiors from magazine ads distilled a 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 idealised 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. Wayward Nurse, combining the harsh gestural surface, the brutal treatment of the paint and the subject, with what was formerly an idealised 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 hellish red, and in so doing has made it appear all the more raw, all the more disturbing and all the more subversive.

In Wayward Nurse, as in the other works in this series, Prince has scanned the cover of one of these books and has printed it out, having tampered with various details, removing some elements, adjusting the cropping and the composition, changing the title. He has thus adjusted and manipulated the original found images. He has then painted over the finished result. This results in a process of execution which involves various steps. In these, there is a strange dance of approach and retreat as the artist defers and then reasserts authorship of the final work. He takes a novel with its lurid cover, scans it, cuts and adjusts it where he feels it is necessary, prints it. All this shows Prince assuming a strange distance from the image, although he has intervened with it and tampered with it in the meantime. And this distance is emphasised by the printing process. However, the surface of Wayward Nurse is emphatically gestural, the result of a painter's very visible exertions. Thus there is a tension between the appropriation of an image roughly half a century old and the traces of Prince's own involvement as a painter.

Is the time period from which these nurse images hail a coincidence? The glamorous and desirable nurses of the books that Prince has used as his source material date from the years of the great ascendancy of the Abstract Expressionists. Prince, in interview, has often referred to 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 Wayward Nurse herself, with its strange blood-like streaks of 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. They punctured a 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 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 emphasises and punctures the sexual stereotypes of the raunchy nurse, as well as that of the macho Ab Ex painter.

The use of a painting style that recalls Abstract Expressionism, a movement that remains on a cultural, canonical pedestal to this day, over the top of a corny and clichéed printed image of a fantasy-figure nurse acts as an attack upon the art of Prince's predecessors, as a deflation of their grandiosity. At the same time, the viewer is forced to wonder whether Prince has not actually enjoyed creating this painting, admitting to and indulging in the ages-old game of the mark-making upon the canvas. The customary detachment that had characterised so many of Prince's earlier works, be they photographs (or photographs of photographs) or the Joke Paintings, has disappeared, replaced by a strange and sensual enjoyment of painting. It is typical of the ever-subversive techniques at work in Prince's work that this sensuality becomes all the more apt, and all the more complex, in the light of the self-evidently exploitative theme that has prompted it.

More from Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

View All
View All