Richard Art Hambleton (June 23, 1952 – October 29, 2017) was an American-Canadian graffiti artist best known for his recurring motif of a black-silhouetted figure known as the Shadowman, which notoriously appeared unexpectedly in corners, alleyways and on walls across lower Manhattan overnight.
A member of a group that emerged from the New York City art scene during the booming art market of the 1980s, Hambleton, along with his contemporaries, painted directly on the streets of New York, something that garnered a lot of attention and gained him the title of the ‘godfather’ of street art.
He is credited with starting the New York street art movement, paving the way for the commercial success of his contemporaries, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and inspiring a new generation of artists, including Blek le Rat, who first saw Hambleton’s work in Paris, and Banksy, who has anonymously made his mark on the walls of cities throughout his career.
Born in Vancouver in 1952, Richard Hambleton studied Fine Art at the Emily Carr School of Art in Vancouver, graduating in 1975. He went on to graduate from the San Francisco Institute of Art and began practising as an artist in the late 1970s. Under the pseudonym Mr Ree, he worked across cities in Canada and the US at night, painting fake police chalk outlines on pavements with a splash of blood-red paint to look like a crime scene. Settling in New York in 1979, Hambleton transitioned from street art to producing paintings in his studio.
Hambleton’s reputation soared and by the mid-80s he was selling his paintings on canvas for high figures. At the height of his fame, critics revered Hambleton as a definitive American Pop-Expressionist artist. He exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1984 and was twice featured on the cover of LIFE magazine.
Preferring to stay away from the limelight, Hambleton turned his back on the commercial art world and alienated both art dealers and close friends. He disappeared from view and battled a severe heroin and drug addiction for 20 years.
Hambleton remained on the periphery of society until the late 2000s, when he was invited to create new work for a major retrospective supported by Giorgio Armani. The exhibition, which toured to New York, Milan, Cannes, Moscow and London, was a huge success and reaffirmed Hambleton’s reputation as the original godfather of street art.
Despite addiction to drugs and a period of homelessness, Hambleton continued his conceptual work until his death on 29th October 2017 in New York. Today, Hambleton’s works are held in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.
Richard Hambleton is the subject of the award-winning documentary, Shadowman, which follows his life from the 80s’ New York street art scene to worldwide fame. Directed by Oren Jacoby, the acclaimed film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2017, where Shadowman is due for release in the UK in 2018.