Richard Hambleton American, 1952-2017
Canadian-born Richard Hambleton (1952-2017), recognised as ‘the Godfather of Street Art’, became a mysterious and unidentified, yet internationally recognised artist during the late 1970s and 80s under the pseudonym of the ‘Shadowman’. This name arose after Hambleton scattered recurring images of a black silhouette known as the ‘Shadowman’ on buildings, in alleyways and side streets throughout international cities: in New York, London, France, Italy and on the Berlin Wall. By painting these sombre figures that unnervingly lurk in unexpected corners, Hambleton somewhat acted as a social influencer stating that the ‘Shadowman’ figure/series ‘represent watchmen or danger or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust or even [his] own shadow’. These figures demonstrate how art surpasses passive presence by actively engaging with the conscience of the everyday passer-by; every action and move is monitored by the ghost-like and sinister human spirit, which is expressively varied in physical appearance yet collectively homogeneous in social responsibilities and black-silhouetted style.
Hambleton continued to convey his signature ‘Shadowman’ image in paintings and prints, which thus have a distinctive social and behavioural context, revealing the vulnerability of human existence as well as the legacy and perpetual spirit that continue to permeate life after death. This seemingly sinister and mysterious image has a paradoxically comforting spiritual existence that informs societal judgement through surveillance – the shadow man as a hero protector from the dangers that surround the city. Influenced early in his career by a hazard ridden 70’s New York City with the highest national rates of criminal activity, prostitution and political and police corruption, Hambleton’s other bodies of works are similarly chilling such as his series ‘Mass Murder’ (1976-1978), whereby he outlined volunteers’ bodies with chalk on the streets of NYC and added details such as blood to mimic realistic crime scenes creating, as he stated himself, a public ‘murder mystery’.
Forbes stated that ‘Hambleton is credited with starting the New York Street Art Movement’, along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, thus influencing later street-art sensation Banksy, amongst countless others. Exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in 1984 as well as featuring on the cover of Life Magazine are two of his greatest of many achievements. Hambleton’s works, rich in meaning and contextual social commentary, have been successfully sold in auction house’s such as Christie’s, Phillips, and Sotheby’s, with his most notable sale to date at Sotheby’s in 2019 with ‘Four Jumping Shadows’ beating estimates and achieving $437,500.
Despite battling a severe drug addiction and somewhat disappearing for over a decade from the immediate Street Art scene that he had previously dominated, Hambleton staged a colossal come back in 2010 with a world-wide megahit retrospective. Sponsored by collector, museum founder and fashion icon Giorgio Armani the exhibition kicked off during New York Fashion Week (2010) and later followed a string of successful exhibitions in London, Milan, Cannes and Moscow. Hambleton struck back as an extraordinary success on the world-stage for one last run. Furthermore, Oren Jacoby directed a film entitled ‘Shadowman’ showcasing Hambleton’s legendary series, which premiered in 2017, six months before the artist’s death at the age of 65.