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Camp Nurse

Camp Nurse
signed, titled and dated 'Richard Prince CAMP NURSE 2002-03' (on the overlap)
inkjet and acrylic on canvas
142.2 x 91.4 cm. (56 x 36 in.)
Painted in 2002-2003
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Private collection
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Richard Prince, Nurse Paintings, exh. cat., Gladstone Gallery, New York, 2003 (illustrated, p. 51).
Richard Prince: Women, exh. cat., Regen Projects, Los Angeles, 2004 (illustrated, no. 115, unpaged).
Richard Prince, 136 Nurses, Karma, New York, 2017 (illustrated, unpaged).
New York, Gladstone Gallery, Richard Prince: Nurse Paintings, 20 September – 25 October 2003.
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Richard Prince: Nurse Paintings, 10 April – 8 May 2021.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

‘Look at all the people today making things using sampled images, mashing up video clips and photographs in ways that feel incredibly common to us, no one does it like Richard. He changed art practice in the 20th century.’ ——Nancy Spector

Drenched in the misty stream of ruby and amethyst brushstrokes, Camp Nurse is a striking example of Richard Prince’s celebrated series of Nurse paintings inspired by covers of vintage nurse-romance novellas. As the early batch of the series, the present work debuted at the now-legendary exhibition at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2003. Prince’s Nurse paintings can be seen as an extension of the image appropriation strategies he developed in the 1980s as a member of Pictures Generation alongside artists like Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Following his early serial works Cowboys and Girlfriends, the Nurses continues to challenge the notions of authorship and originality by blurring the boundary between highbrow and lowbrow art. Here in Camp Nurse, a caregiving, nursing figure is twisted and fetishised in Prince’s matchless gestural marks, breaking free from her original, sterilised setting, and transported into a dusky tropical paradise—an altered world that rings with the underbelly of America.

At the upper edge of the canvas is the original title of the tacky novella that inspired the present work—a 1966 nurse-romance fiction of the same title by Arlene Hale. Bathed in the subtle wash of sheer crimson, ‘Camp Nurse’ is lit and flashing in the air like a neon advert down the unwholesome back street, adding a sensual height to the erotic appeal of the original cover. In the same vein as Prince’s other Nurse paintings such as Piney Woods Nurse, Runaway Nurse, Man-Crazy Nurse, and Tender Nurse, the title of the present work suggests similar pulp-romance plots to underpin the various facets to the entrenched female stereotype in American popular culture. Right beneath it a steamy plot spelt out: ‘Could this summer romance last a lifetime?’ (A. Hale, Camp Nurse, 1966). In the original novella, Nova Fleming who, is the head nurse at the boy camp, thought she would never fall in love again until she lost her heart to Willie. Yet, apart from the texts that are barely legible through the applied paint surface, Prince has purposely obliterated any visual narrative of the original cover under the ultraviolet torrent of paint. Such treatment unveils the artist’s profound interest in word as image, as already asserted in his monochrome joke paintings. Divorced from its original context, Prince’s Camp Nurse creates a thrilling intrigue by placing a close-up portrait of a blonde nurse in her pristine white attire in the centre of the canvas. Her tilted head with dripping contours, her bruised eyes staring at the viewer, evoke nothing but some dastardly misdeeds culled from B-rated horror movies. Prince fabricates a peculiar figure whose identity and purpose remain ambiguous, he transcends the original literary source to become a fictitious cypher, upon which our own desires and fantasies are projected.

A self-regarded bibliophile, Prince has collected thousands of nurse-romance dime-store novels from the 50s and 60s and often trawls them for inspiration. These titles, published as small, portable softbacks, often feature a female heroine involved in an impossible love dilemma and many were written by women themselves. The collecting and recreating of vintage volumes have become part of Prince’s artistic process. Using an inkjet printer to transfer these tacky covers onto his canvas, Prince then conceals all the background in built-up layers of paints, often rendered in smoky, sultry hues that accentuate the sensuous fervour of the original paperback until a single, standalone woman emerges.

‘Mr. Prince mines the ways that society has portrayed women and how women have seemed to want to be portrayed.’——Randy Kennedy

As the present work shows, Prince affixes his new image to the canvas—the female protagonist, without discernable biography and her expression suppressed under the gauzy surgical mask, is scaled up to heroic proportion, forcing the mind to probe into the collective unconscious for the preconceived idea of femininity. Prince intentionally veiled the author’s name underneath the painterly swaths of brilliant hues, posing a question towards the authorship of this trite, cliched novella. Came to be known as an artist in New York in the 1970s, Prince was the first generation that grew up in an environment dominated by media-orientated consumer culture which fundamentally informed his artistic vernacular of appropriating advertising images. He once recalled those mass media images he pirated in the 80s, ‘they were like these authorless pictures, too good to be true, art-directed and over-determined and pretty much like film stills, psychologically hyped-up and having nothing to do with the way art pictures were traditionally 'put' together" (R. Prince, interviewed by Jeff Rian in Art In America, March, 1987). As for his Nurse series, his exploration of the mythical ‘naughty nurse’ coincides with his longstanding fascination with image-making and its power. Through appropriating these idealised, superreal figures from the commercial world over and over again, be they cowboys or models, Prince’s new images expose the spiritual void at the heart of American consumer culture.

Executed with raw and instinctive force, the harsh gestural surface of Camp Nurse suggests a lively subversion of the indulgent, painterly preferences of Abstract Expressionists. While the washes of pigment allude to Rothko’s blocky colour field paintings, its brutal and spontaneous treatment of paint encapsulates the strange violence that evokes de Kooning’s celebrated yet controversial paintings of women in the early 50s. By marrying the gesturality of macho Abstract Expressionist painters with the kitsch subject matter of those tawdry romance novellas, Prince fabricates an uncanny, ambivalent new image that both affirms and punctures the sexual stereotypes of the raunchy nurse and the macho Abstract Expressionist. Through this process, the artist makes a mischievously subversive union between two opposite artistic genres. Conflating Abstract Expressionism with the lowbrow lurid pulp romance novellas, Prince casts light on two rooted cultural archetypes: that of the macho American painter and the seductive symbol of femininity, the ‘naughty nurse’.

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