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Richard Hambleton: A Collector’s Guide

Five things to know about the street art “Shadowman” of the 80’s, Richard Hambleton, who painted NYC Black

Works featured on offer in West Chelsea Contemporary’s current exhibition: PROVOCATEURS. MAR 13 – APRIL 26

Richard Hambleton with one of his Shadowmen circa 1987

Before there was Banksy graffiti-bombing public spaces in the cloak of night and leaving the world to wonder, there was Richard Hambleton. Alongside Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hambleton was a key member of the downtown street art movement taking place in NYC in the 1980s. Hambleton earned himself the nickname Shadowman, for his controversial and thought-provoking wall-scrawlings of life-sized silhouettes splattered with paint onto the sides of building and the sidewalks of the city.

If you happened to be a New Yorker in the early 1980s when graffiti was everywhere, you still couldn’t have missed the hundreds of startling black-painted figures that frequently appeared on the corners of buildings, in the subway stations and the sidewalks all over Manhattan. You may have even been scared stiff by a lurking figure since Hambleton had a habit of choosing his locations based upon the patterns of unsuspecting pedestrians.

Born in Canada and known for ‘painting the town black’, Richard Hambleton has become an integral figure of the public street art movement in NYC, an a true international legend. His art is collected worldwide and he has shown across the globe from the Venice Biennale to the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

Read on below to discover five things every art collector should know about Richard Hambleton.

  1. Hambleton had dark beginnings: He got his start sketching police-chalk drawings of fake murder victims all over the sidewalks of NYC.

Hambleton first came in to the public eye when his 1976-1979 Image Mass Murder series shook New York. The series featured staged, gruesome murder scenes depicted on sidewalks around NYC (Hambleton opted to target the least crime-ridden zones for maximum shock value).

To make the bloody scenes, Hambleton would first nominate a volunteer to be his ‘murder victim’. The volunteer would lay down, and Hambleton would trace their outline in chalk, the way that the police would outline murder victims at the time. Hambleton would then splash some red paint to look like spattered blood on the victim. The grizzly scenes appeared in 15 major cities across America in the 1970s.

Richard Hambleton, Shanghai

2. Hambleton’s second nickname is “The Godfather of Street Art”

Richard Hambleton was nicknamed “The Godfather of Street Art”, and, alongside his contemporaries Keith Haring and Basquiat is credited with inspiring leagues of street artists that came after him.

In October 2009, Papermag wrote of Richard Hambleton “Memo to Banksy: You owe Richard Hambleton a small fortune in royalties. You too, KAWS.”

“I painted the town black…They could represent watchmen, or danger, or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust– or even my own shadow.”

Richard Hambleton on his shadowmen

3. Hambleton spent many years as a recluse following his meteoric rise to fame.

Both Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat died young, and the loss of his circle of contemporaries took a toll on Hambleton. He retreated to his studio for many years, privately producing a new series that reflected a variation on his Shadow work, featuring a cowboy on horseback. This Marlboro Man series was widely received as some of Hamilton’s best work.

4. Hambleton has inspired many of the street artists that we know today.

From an interview with West Chelsea Contemporary featured artist Blek le Rat:

“From the old school I really like Richard Hambleton. This American artist from NYC was the first street artist to export his work all over the world. It was really incredible to do that in the beginning of the 80′s! This guy put his shadows in every city in Europe and so you could find them in Paris, London, Roma and Berlin. 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.”

Richard Hambleton’s Shanghai

5. His horse and rider series pays homage to Hambleton’s own struggles with addiction.

The horse and rider are known to symbolize the delicate balance of human life lived on the edge. Hambleton’s rider cannot control his horse. He holds on tight with one hand, and reaches with the other for balance as the world swirls chaotically around him.

Works by Richard Hambleton now on display and for sale at West Chelsea Contemporary in Provocateurs.

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.



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