Monochromatic with a sharply contrasting silk-screened text, I’d Rather Die belongs to one of Richard Prince’s most iconic series—the joke paintings. Master miner of mass media imagery, Prince has famously appropriated a wealth of images from Marlboro ads to the covers of pulp romance novels. In 1987, he began appropriating jokes and cartoons in his work. Noting, "No, I'm not so funny. I like it when other people are funny. It's hard being funny. Being funny is a way to survive," he sought out to amass a generous collection of one-line jokes (R. Prince quoted in "Like a Beautiful Scar on Your Head," Modern Painters, Autumn 2002).
Distilling his canvases in a humorous simplicity, Prince has disassembled the process of artistic representation and its interpretive demands. Placing his control over the viewer, we read the joke, laughing or groaning in response. Echoing the uncluttered monochromes of an esteemed range of artists form Kazimir Malevich to Yves Klein and Ad Reinhardt to Brice Marden, I’d Rather Die has the emphatic simplicity of Minimalism. And yet, deliberately puncturing the seriousness of art history’s great monochromes, Prince has printed a classic one-line joke at its center. Recalling the zips of Barnett Newman's paintings, Prince’s selection of a deliberately unobtrusive font places the canvases serious and authoritative appearance in strange tension with the flippant content. “The subject comes first. Then the medium I guess,” Prince has explained. “Like the jokes. They needed a traditional medium. Stretchers, canvas, paint. The most traditional. Nothing fancy or clever or loud. The subject was already that. So the medium had to cut into the craziness. Make it more normal. Normalize the subject. Normality as the next special effect” (Prince, quoted in R. Rian, 'Interview', pp. 6-24, in R. Brooks, J. Rian & L. Sante, Richard Prince, London, 2003, p. 20)
Minimal in composition and lacking the painterly presence of the artist's hand, Prince's joke paintings parallel the "rephotography" that Prince became so well known for in his photographic works. Surreptitiously borrowing, appropriating, or as he refers to it, "stealing" is a trademark of his work. Even the location from which he draws his content has become a staple to his oeuvre. "Jokes and cartoons are part of any mainstream magazine,” Prince explains. “Especially magazines like the New Yorker or Playboy. They're right up there with the editorial and advertisements and table of contents and letters to the editors. They're part of the layout, part of the 'sights' and 'gags.' Sometimes they're political, sometimes they just make fun of everyday life. Once in a while they drive people to protest and storm foreign embassies and kill people." (R. Prince quoted in B. Ruf (ed.) Jokes and Cartoons, n.p.)