Richard Prince began making his Joke paintings in 1987 and continued their production through the late 1990s. The most iconic of these were done in the '80s and are monochromatic canvases with sharply contrasting silk-screened text. This work in particular, is a red-orange monochrome with six lines of blue-green text in the middle of the canvas that run horizontally to its edges. Blue is the opposite of orange on the color wheel and the use of these two colors creates a loud, abrasive and indelicate aesthetic that is, after all, the domain of jokes.
The notion of the opposite and its inherent dualism lies at the heart of this work. Not only is this work painted in two opposite colors, but the joke, which is itself made up of two parts (the good and bad news), divides the canvas horizontally into two parts. These two halves are identical, however; and Prince consequently conveys the indifference of difference in a world where authority is general. The Ioke paintings are, in fact, responses to the struggle of painting to find its way along the road of representation. By depicting words that are most often conveyed orally, Prince frustrates the visual nature of painting.
Minimal in composition and subverting the painterly presence of the artist's hand, Prince's joke paintings parallel the "rephotography" for which he became so well known. Prince captures a morsel of the general and presents it as his. "Stealing," as Prince refers to it, is a trademark of his work. Moreover, jokes, more than any other form of communication, are authorless--owned by no one in particular and yet somehow possessed by everyone. In painting a joke, Prince claims ownership of it, though the viewer knows it is borrowed property. Nonetheless, Prince has the last laugh.