Like A Beautiful Scar On Your Head
Have you always been funny?
Richard Prince: No, I'm not so funny. I like it when other people are
funny. It's hard being funny. Being funny is a way to survive. It's like that
joke, Jewish Man to his Friend: 'If I live I'll see you Wednesday. If I don't
I'll see you Thursday'.
When did you start telling jokes?
I never really started telling. I started telling them over. Back in 1985,
in Venice, California, I was drawing my favorite cartoons in pencil on paper.
After this I dropped the illustration or image part of the cartoon and
concentrated on the punch line.
What was your first joke? And when did you tell it?
The 'psychiatrist' joke. 1986- when I was living in New York, in the back of
303 Gallery on Park Ave. South. Like this, 'I went to see a psychiatrist. He
said "tell me everything", I did, and now he's doing my act'. I wrote it out
by hand on a piece of paper with a pencil. On a small piece of paper. I
called it a "Hand-Written "joke.
Are they always your own jokes?
None of them are mine. I get them from magazines, books, the internet.
Sometimes from the inside of a bank. You know they're just like blueprints that
float around the sky and show up on a cloud. Sometimes I buy them from other
criminals. People tell them to me. Ministers. Rabbis. Priests. Once I saw
one in the washing machine spinning around getting clean.
Do you laugh at your own jokes?
Are there comedians you enjoy watching?
Sam Kinison. Bernie Mac. Richard Pryor. Phyllis Diller. Rodney
Are there any no-go areas of humour?
Religious paintings. Religious jokes. Black paintings. Black jokes. White
paintings. White jokes. Right and wrong. Responsibility. Crossing a line.
Step over this line if you want to fight, and then that someone does and you
step back and draw another line. 'Why did the Nazi cross the road?' That's
it. My no-going area is like living in sand. Moving by wading more than
swimming. I mean I wouldn't kill for a joke. There's a lot of areas the world
goes where it shouldn't be going. The world is fucked up enough without me
fucking it up more.
Most people start painting and then add words. Did you start the other way?
I got my supplies. I got my houseboat. I got a good pair of shoes. The
light is good. The clock is ticking. I wake up and I'm doing it in my sleep.
The bed is made and the floor is clean. It's my turn to drive, I sit back. I
stare. I stare at the painting and I forget. It's finished. Then I get
more canvas and more stretchers and more paint and start over.
When did you first think that you were a serious artist?
In 1967. I was seventeen. I walked into the Whiskey on Sunset Strip and
heard Jim Morrison sing Roadhouse Blues.
Does your art come from an autobiographical source?
It's all just like me. And it's all what I like. If you like it, I'll call
it mine. But you can't say it's all mine. Some of me, some of you. Most of
me, none of you. It's like when they ask me where I'm from- I say, 'not from
any place really'. And they say, 'What? Born in a balloon?'
What do you see as your major influences?
The Canal Zone. Peach Street in Braintree, Mass. Zorro. Carving the word
'shit' on my desk in fifth grade. Getting to know how to make it come out of
my cock in sixth grade. Steve McQueen and the two cars in the movie Bullitt.
Watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on TV. The Vietnam war. Martin Luther
King's assassination. Jackson Pollack. Lenny Bruce. Jimmy Piersol (he played
baseball for the Boston Red Sox and he was mentally unstable). Touching the
Berlin Wall in 1968. Rod Sterling. Hugh Hefner. What's My Line? Truth or
Consequences. Who Do You Trust? The Ed Sullivan Show (all TV shows). Milton
Bradley. Christian Metz. Lew Welch (a poet). Two Lane Blacktop (a movie).
Woodstock. Procol Harum. Blonde on Blonde. Beach combing in Weymouth, Mass,
when I was a teenager. West Side Story- especially the outfit Bernardo wore
to the YMCA dance. The INs and OUTs of the New York Social Register. The
fragrance counter at Sak's Fifth Avenue. Carol Shelby. The shininess of the
Velvet Underground. The Beach Boys'. In My Room. The World of Video. Tons
Are there other artists working today or in the past that you rate highly?
Christopher Wool. Jeff Koons. Fischli & Weiss. David Hammonds. Sarah
Lucas. Martin Kippenberger. Rosemarie Trockel. Walter Dahn. George Condo.
James Casebere. James Welling. Dike Blair. Ricky Sparrow. Damien Hirst.
Is advertising a major influence in your work?
Overdetermination. Art directed. Psychologically hopped-up. Too good to be
true. The way it could be but never is. I wouldn't say an influence so much
as a sub-text. I've always liked when the impossible looks possible. Like a
good Sci-Fi film.
Although your subject matter is loud, your palette seems quiet. Is this how
you see it?
Yes. Like a beautiful scar on our head.
As well as jokes, are you also working on other kinds of painting?
YES. 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 collect 'nurse' books. Paperbacks. You can't miss them.
They're all over the airport. I like the words 'nurse', 'nurses', 'nursing'.
Do you work at the same time with photographic images as well as written ones?
Yes. Mixing up the medicine. Pajamas and a pipe. Slippers and a dog. Back
and forth. Which is which? Bang a gong. Dip a brush. Click a camera.
It's a free concert from now on.
Do you find it confusing to work in different media at the same time?
There's nothing confusing about making art for me. I can't build a house. I
can't ride a horse. I can't repair a car. I can't sing and I can't vote.
Wavy hair. Freckles on a face. An arm defined by a vein. I can make art.
Does working and living outside of New York help to focus the mind on art
matters and avoid art politics?
I like living outside. Working outside. Right now outside is good. I can
eat politics, I can sleep politics, but I don't have to drink politics.