We just received the information that Street Art Pioneer Richard Hambleton passed away at the age of 65. Hambleton was the surviving member of a group, together with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, coming out of the New York City Downtown art scene during the 1980s. Hambleton’s early public art included his Image Mass Murder art. From 1976 to 1978 Hambleton painted his famous police “chalk” outlines around bodies of volunteer “homicide victims.” He then splashed some red paint on the outline, leaving behind a realistic looking crime scene. These “crime scenes” were done on the streets of 15 major cities across the United States and Canada.
Hambleton’s “Shadowman” paintings were all over Manhattan, became famous and can be mentioned as one of the very earliest Street Art works. Each painting resembles a life-sized silhouetted image of some mysterious person, a “splashy shadow figure. These “shadow paintings” were splashed and brushed with black paint on hundreds of buildings and other structures across New York City. Locations were believed to be calculated for maximum impact upon unsuspecting pedestrians. Very often, a “Shadowman” could be found in a dark alley or lurking just around a street corner. Hambleton later expanded the scope of his project and painted these “shadowmen” in other cities, including Paris, London and Rome, and even, in 1984, he painted 17 life-size figures on the East side of the Berlin Wall, returning a year later to paint more figures on the West side of the Berlin Wall.
A young Blek le Rat, the stencil artist who in turn inspired Banksy. “Richard Hambleton’s shadowmen that I discovered in Paris were a great inspiration to me,” says the Parisian. “He was the first to export his work to the urban space of cities all around Europe. He’s the only artist I ever bought a painting off, one of the greatest.”
In 1985, Hambleton disappeared, withdrawing into the shadows like one of his paintings, to hole up in his Lower East Side den with only heroin and hookers for company. While Basquiat and Haring were to become victims of the scene, both dying young, Hambleton, somehow, survived. But as his former street mates’ legacy grew, Hambleton’s reputation faded. An ex-girlfriend stole 40 of his paintings and sold them off on the cheap and the artist found himself living rough. For nearly a quarter of a century he stopped sharing his work, refusing commercial representation, turning down exhibitions and selling his work on an ad-hoc basis when he needed to pay his rent. The once ubiquitous scourge of the streets had become a recluse.
A film about Hambleton entitled “Shadowman” by director Oren Jacoby, premiered recently at the Tribeca Film Festival (April2017) The film covers Hambletons meteoric rise to success in the New York art scene, as well as his widely reported struggle with drug addiction. But the movie was directed without involving the artist.
Many called him the forgotten father of street art and he probably was.
We at ILG had the chance to meet him in New York a few months ago for an interview, sadly Richard just passed away in New York after an extended illness.
REST IN PEACE