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.
"Untitled (Cowboy)" is a high point of the artist's ongoing deconstruction of an American archetype as old as the first trailblazers and as timely as then-outgoing president Ronald Reagan. Prince's picture is a copy (the photograph) of a copy (the advertisement) of a myth (the cowboy). Perpetually disappearing into the sunset, this lone ranger is also a convincing stand-in for the artist himself, endlessly chasing the meaning behind surfaces. Created in the fade-out of a decade devoted to materialism and illusion, "Untitled (Cowboy)" is, in the largest sense, a meditation on an entire culture's continuing attraction to spectacle over lived experience.