Untitled (Cowboy)

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  • Provenance

    White Cube, London
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Every Monday, People and Time magazines would come out. When I got to work I’d pour through them looking for a new Marlboro Ad. This would make my dead-end job seem less dead. Looking through a brand new magazine has always excited me. I’m not sure why. Being next to someone else’s world is the best way I can describe it. It was especially exciting back then because I was 'tearing' the 'cowboys' and the expectations of finding a good one, one that I could use… added to the excitement.” - Richard Prince

    In Untitled (Cowboy), 2012, cool swathes of blue brushstrokes surround a lone cowboy, donning a Stetson perched atop his proud steed. Beginning in the early 1980s, Richard Prince’s depiction of the American cowboy has been one of the most celebrated motifs throughout his long career, arguably the crux of his oeuvre. Originally borrowed from Marlboro advertisements, Prince’s cowboys are both innovative and controversial, presenting thought-provoking questions of artistic authorship and highlighting the effects of marketing on consumers. His choice of subject matter in the Cowboys has crowned Richard Prince as one of the most important artistic voices of the past half-century.

    Prince first encountered the alluring qualities of the then vastly prevalent advertisements for Marlboro cigarettes through his humble beginnings clipping magazine articles for Time Life staff writers. The spokesmodel for the brand, a ruggedly handsome cowboy cast in a romantic Western landscape, represented a quintessential masculinity that readily appealed to both men and women. Everyone aspired to be like or with the allusive and desirable Marlboro Man, aiding the popularity of cigarette smoking. Riveted by the advertisements’ visual implications and cultural prominence, Prince began re-photographing the imagery. Eliminating all marketing information from the clippings and enlarging their scale, Prince stripped the advertisements of their context, leaving behind only the image and presenting it as an independent entity. By curating and transforming these ads, Prince believed they were devoid of any copyright obligations and consequently opened up a widespread debate among contemporary critics about postmodernist theory and the definition of ownership.

    Since originating as a collection of grainy cropped reproductions, Prince’s Cowboys have persisted throughout stages of improved image quality. He reinvigorated the series in the 2010s by utilizing old paperback books instead of magazine advertisements as his source imagery. Introducing this technique with his equally-iconic Nurse paintings, Prince scanned the covers of Western novels collected in bulk from eBay and transferred them to canvas, after which he would add painterly brushstrokes. Akin to his process with the Marlboro ads, Prince removes any contextual evidence of the image belonging to anything besides his own painting. Remaining as the central and singular subject of the work, the cowboy in the present work is paused for a moment, looking out into the gesturally painted eerie abyss. Possibly readying his gun for fire or simply in a state of melancholic reflection, the wanderer recalls a nostalgia for the past, synonymous with idealistic heroism that is most readily associated with Manifest Destiny and the American Dream.

    Still, forty years later and after smoking became taboo, the cowboy continues to symbolize a romanticized freedom which Prince’s work pervades into American culture. “In both the geographical and cultural sense, a cowboy is an image of endurance itself, a stereotypical symbol of American cinema. He is simultaneously the wanderer and the mythological symbol of social mobility. Even today, the image of the cowboy has not lost its luster” (Rosetta Brooks, Richard Prince, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1992, p. 95). Brilliantly exemplifying Prince’s most iconic series, Untitled (Cowboy) is a timeless representation of America’s most revered and inspirational figure.

  • Artist Bio

    Richard Prince

    American • 1947

    For more than three decades, Prince's universally celebrated practice has pursued the subversive strategy of appropriating commonplace imagery and themes – such as photographs of quintessential Western cowboys and "biker chicks," the front covers of nurse romance novellas, and jokes and cartoons – to deconstruct singular notions of authorship, authenticity and identity.

    Starting his career as a member of the Pictures Generation in the 1970s alongside such contemporaries as Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Sherrie Levine, Prince is widely acknowledged as having expanded the accepted parameters of art-making with his so-called "re-photography" technique – a revolutionary appropriation strategy of photographing pre-existing images from magazine ads and presenting them as his own. Prince's practice of appropriating familiar subject matter exposes the inner mechanics of desire and power pervading the media and our cultural consciousness at large, particularly as they relate to identity and gender constructs.

    View More Works

363

Untitled (Cowboy)

signed, dedicated and dated "To James with friendship - yippie yi o mother f..... Richard Prince 2012" on the overlap
inkjet and acrylic on canvas
30 x 19 1/2 in. (76.2 x 49.5 cm.)
Executed in 2012.

Estimate
$450,000 - 550,000 

sold for $524,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Afternoon Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019