Richard Hambleton

Canadian, 1952 - 2017
Richard Hambleton, widely considered the “Godfather of Street Art” was a seminal figure in New York’s urban art scene that emerged in the early 1980s and included his friends Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. From 1976-1979, his ‘Image Mass Murder’ conceptual street art installations depicting crime scenes with blood-splattered chalk body outlines appeared in more than 15 cities in Canada and the US. In 1979, Hambleton moved permanently to New York City, and beginning in the early 1980s, working surreptitiously at night, his Nightlife series emerged as public paintings of shadow figures on the Lower East Side and in Soho. Raw, gestural and energetic, they initially brought notoriety, and as the paintings transitioned onto found objects and finally to canvases, the Shadowman emerged from the shadows, exhibiting in over 40 group exhibitions worldwide. At the height of his fame in 1984, he exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and painted 17 life-size figures on the east side of the Berlin Wall, returning a year later to paint additional figures on the west side of the Wall. These very public artworks garnered the Shadowman series worldwide fame. In 1985 he withdrew from the art world, becoming a recluse with heroin as his constant companion. He continued to paint, creating a new body of work he entitled ‘Beautiful Paintings,’ shimmering landscapes that incorporated metallic leaf on canvas with transparent paint or painted on metallic or mirrored surfaces, with giant waves of white paint he splattered onto the canvas and worked at with his fingers. A solo exhibition of his work in 2007 launched a resurgence of interest in the artist, followed by a sold-out retrospective in 2009. Richard Hambleton’s work is a clear precursor to the early 2000s graffiti art boom, as seen in the work of artists worldwide including Banksy, KAWs and Blek le Rat. Hambleton died in 2017, his work continuing to escalate in value, his influence in the art world irrefutable and his place in the history of modern art solidified.
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