LONDON: SADIE COLES HQ
Richard Prince: Nurse Paintings
23 April – 31 May 2003
When asked about these paintings last year, Richard Prince said ‘I’m painting nurses. I like their hats. Their aprons. Their shoes. My mother was a nurse. My sister was a nurse. My grandmother and two cousins were nurses … I like the words nurse, nurses, nursing.’ Painting over large inkjet prints of pulp paperbacks, each featuring a pretty, melancholic-looking nurse, Prince has created a vivid series of canvases that sit somewhere between his appropriated photoworks and joke paintings; the subject matter bringing to mind his Girlfriends series, as well as works such as Untitled (Three women looking in one direction), 1980.
Exaggerating the garish palette of these
sixties covers, everything is painted out except for the titles of the books
and the nurses themselves, who are washed over in various pastel shades and
given white slashes across the face in approximations of surgical masks. The
books’ titles – which include the classics Heartbreak Nurse, Dude Ranch
Nurse, Aloha Nurse and Danger Nurse at Work – are left as grand captions
over each image, with any other characters or text painted out in
expressionist gashes of colour (although tantalising fragments of handsome
doctors and cheesy bylines such as ‘Could her love thaw his frozen heart?’
are allowed to come through the layers of paint).
The strange mask-like gashes across each of the nurses’ faces function as focal points, with subtle variations across the series. At times the masks obliterate the features from the eyes to the chin, in other works they simply veil the coquettish features, in yet others they become a grotesque grin. Seen alongside the deadpan photographs of Prince’s collection of first editions in American English, the Nurse Paintings’ standardised figures and formats form a companion lexicon, expanding Prince’s idiosyncratic cataloguing, collecting and eulogising of pop-culture ephemera.