Richard Prince, ‘Untitled (Tamara), from the Entertainers series’, 1982, Heritage Auctions
Richard Prince, ‘Untitled (Tamara), from the Entertainers series’, 1982, Heritage Auctions

Richard Prince's Tamara and Fayy (1982) belong to a group of compositions known as the Entertainers series. With a unique aesthetic approach known as rephotography developed in 1977, Prince began deviating from collage art to appropriation. In a Warholian manner, Prince creates compelling stories of the American psyche to shed light on society's obsession with mass produced objects. These works ask the viewer to question if the artist is celebrating popular culture or making a subtle commentary on people's obsession with material commodities and celebrities. While some appropriation works can be critiqued as unoriginal, Prince emphasizes the importance of authorship and ownership by giving a whole new meaning to the pictures. He creates a fictional world for the viewer by taking a familiar image from popular culture and American consumption and making it the sole object of the viewer's eye. "Rephotography is a technique for stealing (printing) already existing images, simulating rather than copying them, 'managing' rather than quoting them- re-producing their effect and look as naturally as they had been produced when they first appeared. A resemblance more than a reproduction." (Prince, Practicing without a License, 1977). It is through this technique that Prince has continued making his mark in the contemporary realm of visual culture, media and advertising images. In 1982, Prince created the Entertainers series consisting of photographic portraits of actors and actresses. In these two works, the artist takes the American icons of mainstream media and places them in the foreground. While Tamara and Fayy's faces are the focal point of the works, they remain slightly blurred against the advertisements and the letter "E" apparent in the background. Prince strategically places his subjects this way, narrating how celebrities reside in the spotlight for those promised 15 minutes. These works demonstrate how society's obsession with celebrities is so momentary, their interchangeable faces permeating our cultural environment.

Image rights: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

303 Gallery, New York; Private collection, acquired from the above, 1987.

About Richard Prince

Though the quote “good artists borrow, great artists steal” is traditionally attributed to Pablo Picasso, it could well be Richard Prince’s motto. Prince mines mass-media images to redefine concepts of ownership and authorship, a practice he conceived of while working in the tear-sheets department of Time-Life. In his “Cowboys” series, for example, started in the early 1980s, he re-photographed Marlboro ads, cropping out text to generate close-ups of mythical cowboy figures. His “Nurse” works—first exhibited in 2003—were produced by scanning the covers of pulp paperbacks, transferring them to canvas, and painting over the prints. An avid collector of American subcultures, Prince has also turned his eye to biker chicks, Borscht Belt jokes, and Willem de Kooning canvases. “I don’t see any difference now between what I collect and what I make,” he says. “It’s become the same.”

American, b. 1949, Panama Canal Zone, based in New York, New York