One of the most infamous appropriation artists, Richard Prince has employed a number of strategies to question the authorship and ownership of artistic imagery. By rephotographing, copying, scanning, and manipulating the work of others, he has crafted a technique of appropriation and provocation. Drawing his subjects from subcultures and cultural cliches, Prince also demonstrates how easily we accept marketing messages and stereotypes, and how dependent these icons are on the context in which they are presented. Stripped from their original environment, Prince makes the familiar seem strange, and invites the viewer to scrutinize that which is usually consumed in a quick glance.
The Marlboro Man cowboy, emblem of Marlboro cigarettes, was both a stereotypical icon of the American West and a romanticized anachronism. Taken from 1950s advertisements, these photographs depict the stoic, lone hero, riding through an expansive and untamed landscape, his horse as his only companion. Prince's appropriation calls into question the authenticity of the Marlboro images and their subliminal messages. Removed from a popular context, the fantastical illusion of the rowdy and rugged cowboy as an American icon begins to crumble. This is not truly a cowboy in action, but merely an actor playing a part in a fantasy of American history;
Prince's interest in cliches and stereotypes inspired his Nurse series, which he began in 2003. In appropriating the covers of 1950s pulp fiction novels, he explores the eroticized subject of the sexy nurse. He worked directly from the original sources, scanning the cover of the book, printing it on a large canvas, and then embellishing it with paint. While the subject is thoroughly popular, the painterliness reveals Prince's study of Abstract Expressionism; scholars have noted the blocky color fields of the background recall Mark Rothko, the dangerous woman and gestural marks suggest de Kooning.
In 2014, the artist once again established his ability to provoke controversy over issues of ownership and content, this time with Instagram. Prince’s New Portraits series consisted of blown up screenshots culled from selfies taken by young men and women on the social app. His works are currently held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Goetz Collection in Munich, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among others. Prince currently lives and works in upstate New York.