Richard Hambleton

Richard Hambleton

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Biography

“I painted the town black.”

Richard Hambleton

Richard Hambleton was a Canadian-American street artist who is widely credited as the original godfather of street art and kingpin of the creative revolution that exploded in the East Side in the 1980s. Like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the streets of New York were his original canvas, and at the height of his prominence in the mid-1980s he was more highly-valued and sought-after than any of his contemporaries, inspiring a new generation of artists including Blek Le Rat and Banksy.

Richard Hambleton was a Canadian-American street artist who is widely credited as the original godfather of street art and kingpin of the creative revolution that exploded in the East Side in the 1980s. Like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the streets of New York were his original canvas, and at the height of his prominence in the mid-1980s he was more highly-valued and sought-after than any of his contemporaries, inspiring a new generation of artists including Blek Le Rat and Banksy.

He is best known for his ‘Shadowman’ paintings, dark, dynamic silhouetted figures that he painted prolifically around the streets and alleyways of Lower Manhattan. The menacing figures, lurking on street corners or dark alleys, some elevated on walls as if jumping out at you, would appear overnight and frighten passers-by, reflecting the culture of fear and tension that gripped the city at the time. ”They could represent watchmen or danger or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust or even my own shadow”, he said.

Born in Vancouver in 1952, Richard Hambleton’s training in art was formal, studying first at the Emily Carr School of Art in Vancouver and later at the San Francisco Institute of Art. He began his career as an artist in 1976 under the pseudonym “Mr Ree’. Working at night, he would paint his ‘Image Mass Murder’ scenes on the pavements of cities across Canada and the USA: fake police chalk outlines splattered with blood on pavements to imitate crime scenes – a response to the soaring crime rates in Canada and the United States in the 1970s.

Settling in New York in 1979, Hambleton transitioned from street to canvas, and his reputation rocketed. By the mid-1980s he was selling his paintings for high figures and was revered as a definitive American Pop-Expressionist, exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1984 and twice featuring on the cover of Life magazine. In 1984 he also painted 17 life-size figures on the east side of the Berlin Wall, returning a year later to paint the west side too.

 However, despite his stellar success, Hambleton’s reputation faded when he became a virtual recluse. Battling a severe heroin and drug addiction, he alienated the art world, selling his artwork on an ad hoc basis himself to pay his rent or fund his addiction. He even went through a period of homelessness.

 In 2010 after much persuasion by two young curators, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida, he reluctantly agreed to exhibit his work in a major retrospective supported by Giorgio Armani. Opening in New York during New York Fashion Week, it was a complete sell-out and went on to tour Milan, Cannes, Moscow and London.

Today his 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 was the subject of the award-winning documentary ‘Shadowman’ which follows his life from 1980s’ New York street art to worldwide fame. Directed by Oren Jacoby, the acclaimed film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017, just six months before his death.

Richard Hambleton

News

The Godfather of Street Art, 5 Reasons Why Richard Hambleton Is An Artist To Collect
June 30, 2020

The Godfather of Street Art

5 Reasons Why Richard Hambleton Is An Artist To Collect
Hambleton was a Canadian-American street artist who is widely credited as the original godfather of street art and kingpin of the creative revolution that exploded in the East Side in the 1980s. Like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the streets of New York were his original canvas, and at the height of his prominence in the mid-1980s he was more highly-valued and sought-after than any of hi…
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