Postcolonial Thoughts: Richard Prince’s Instagram Paintings

by Christopher Hutchinson

This essay is not about questioning the validity of whether or not Richard Prince is an artist; it rather examines Prince’s methodology in order to question to his “genius.” Prince has been a controversial figure since the re-photography in his most famous cowboy series. “In the mid-1970s, Prince was an aspiring painter who earned a living by clipping articles from magazines for staff writers at Time-Life Inc. What remained at the end of the day were the advertisements, featuring gleaming luxury goods and impossibly perfect models; both fascinated and repulsed by these ubiquitous images, the artist began rephotographing them, using a repertoire of strategies (such as blurring, cropping, and enlarging) to intensify their original artifice. In so doing, Prince undermined the seeming naturalness and inevitability of the images, revealing them as hallucinatory fictions of society’s desires.”-


Prince finds an image he likes, comments on it, makes a screen-grab with his iPhone, and sends the file — via email — to an assistant. From here, the file is cropped, printed as is, stretched, and presto: It’s art. Or stuff that’s driving others crazy for a variety of reasons.-Jerry Saltz

Price’s process has been validated for decades now through mandatory art school reading such as Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author and Walter Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The issue here is the fact that the process itself is dated and offers no new insight responsible to this moment, except for the deliberate commercial use of iPhones and Instagram. What Prince’s process reveals is the nihilistic limits of Western art practice. Its constant reduction limited by rules provided previously. How is this new work more significant than the work he did in the 70’s? It’s sad really. Here we have an artist that is so tied his methodology that he relies on technology to give it relevancy. Adding technology alone, to any medium, will not magically make the artwork good.


Prince’s work has successfully affirmed the old belief that photography and the camera is a tool that cannot create art; it can only do its job- to reproduce. As a failed painter he has executed the tenet held so dear to painters in relation to photography. The debasing of photography is more important to Prince than copyright infringement and authenticity.

Prince calls his enlarged “screen-grabs” paintings and Jerry Saltz affirms this by comparing the out of focus enlarged photo to Lichtenstein’s intention with his Ben-day dots.   The problem with this is Prince’s intention. Lichtenstein’s work used that style to conjure a nostalgia that his artwork required. Prince’s use of the canvas, with ink-jet ink, is transforming the ephemeral life of Instagram posts to permanent nostalgic objects. The argument that Prince is using new technology is void when placed in a gallery on a canvas. It is no longer Instagram; it is tradition.


Whaam! (1963, Tate Modern, London[33])


Prince’s work at best is a tableau attempting to be a simulacra/simulation of real life representing a scene from history. The Instagram pieces are a simulation of art. Prince’s simulation only succeeds as an artifact-evidence of internet culture. What would be the point of critiquing artifacts?-They are merely tools.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Categories: Art, Postcolonial Thoughts, Writing


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4 Comments on “Postcolonial Thoughts: Richard Prince’s Instagram Paintings”

  1. May 28, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Iconic Tonic.


  2. cvnadagroup2017
    June 2, 2015 at 11:19 am #

    nice blog….good informations…


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