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"Nurse Paintings"

Richard Prince
Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
September 20- October 25, 2003

Nursing rating 1 star
Artistic rating 3 stars

See the rating guide.

Pulp Fiction Nurse

by Dianne Roux-Lirange, RN

They are petite, pretty models dressed in the starched uniforms of the fifties with the requisite caps, some carrying medical satchels ("Graduate Nurse, "Piney Woods Nurse"). One ("Nympho Nurse") has a stethoscope around her neck. Each one is featured on the cover of a paperback pulp novel--titles of which are obscured but clearly describe the nurse's life or what she is involved in, like travel ("Aloha Nurse", "Lake Resort Nurse", "Overseas Nurse"), personal drama ("Nurse Barclay's Dilemma", "Conflict for Nurse Elsa"), or love relations ("Tender Nurse", "Man Crazy Nurse"). There's nothing else in the paintings' dark washes of background color except for the one titled "Washington Nurse" in which a man appearing as a faint shadow stands behind the nurse with his hands placed on her shoulders.

But what sets this apart from the style that artist Richard Prince used for his other series of figurative images (of celebrities and biker chicks) is the swath of white paint over the lower face. Is it a surgical mask? Yes, configuring it as a mask makes sense for depicting a nurse.

But it does not fit; it stands for something else--otherwise why is Camp Nurse 's nose faintly seen as bleeding under the mask or Registered Nurse's lipstick smeared? It masks the nurse's character, it makes the nurse docile and, in effect, muzzles and prevents the nurse from doing her job. Nurses may be accustomed to the kitschy images of nurses, or even naughty nurses, but this show has it all wrong. Nurses speak for themselves and those they care for, and, for all of this, they may be considered outspoken. Masking nurses to make them silent is the stuff of fiction--pulp fiction.

Reviewed by Dianne Roux-Lirange, RN
Reviewed October 5, 2003

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.