Painted in 2006, Richard Prince’s Runaway Nurse is a steamy, lurid work, a flagrantly erotic example of the Nurse paintings that remain the iconic series in the artist’s oeuvre. Set ablaze in fiery crimson tones, the painting depicts a beautiful young nurse, whose bare shoulders and black lingerie make Runaway Nurse one of the most overtly sexual in the series. Prince lavishes attention on his heroine, from the highlights of her tender, glowing skin, to the delicate drape of her exposed blouse and the drips of aqueous black paint that seep from her lingerie. The painting’s title—“RUNAWAY NURSE”—appears above her, hovering in the air like a neon sign for some shady roadside bar. Suspenseful and seductive, the painting evokes the crime-laded intrigue of the original dime-store novel that inspired it—the 1948 Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by American writer Horace McCoy. Dramatically enlarged to heroic scale, the heroine in Runaway Nurse becomes life-sized, surrounded by the molten aura that Prince creates, accentuating the pent-up desire and salacious content of the original novel, to create an image that’s even more provocative than the character in the original book.
Runaway Nurse is a heady painting, its imagery overtly sexual and its palette set ablaze in roaring tones of fiery crimson. Prince’s scantily-clad nurse is lovingly detailed, from the delicate daubs of paint that describe the tender features of her face to the expertly-modeled drape of her opened blouse. The luminous quality of her skin gives off a radiant glow when set against the painting’s brushy background. Standing at the foot of a bass bed, she displays herself for the viewer, her blouse opened to reveal bare shoulders and black lingerie, yet she demurs by turning her head to the side and closing her eyes in silent dissent. A delicate wash of translucent white acrylic indicates the nurse’s mask that covers her nose and mouth, yet her parted red lips are still visible beneath. Since their inception in 2003, Prince’s Nurse paintings have long possessed a certain hushed eroticism, yet Runaway Nurse is one of the few examples to depict an overtly semi-nude figure. Along with the nurse’s hat that rests upon the back of her head, the mask is the only remaining vestige of her identity, as the viewer puzzles over the mystery that surrounds her dramatic circumstances.
Excerpt taken from Christies’ Post War and Contemporary Evening May 10, 2016 auction catalogue