Richard Hambleton (born June 1954) is an artist-painter currently living and working in the Lower East Side of New York City. Richard Hambleton has been called the godfather of street art. He is the surviving member of a group who, together with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, had great success coming out of the New York City art scene during the booming art market of the 1980s. Much of Hambleton's work is compared to graffiti art, however, Hambleton considers his work to be "public art".
Richard Hambleton was born in Vancouver, Canada in June 1954. He earned an Advanced Diploma from the Vancouver School of Art in Vancouver in 1975. Hambleton was also Founder and Co-Director “Pumps” Center for Alternative Art, a gallery, performance and video space in Vancouver.
Richard Hambleton's early public art is noteworthy for his Image Mass Murder concept. From 1976 to 1979 Hambleton painted a police "chalk" outline 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. Like Hambleton's future "Shadowman" paintings, the Image Mass Murder "crime scenes" would often have the effect of startling or shocking passersby.
Richard Hambleton is most famous for his "Shadowman" paintings of the early 1980s. 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. in 1983, during Malcolm McLaren's fashion design partnership with Vivienne Westwood, they collaborated with Hambleton to create a "Shadowman" jersey skirt.
Moving beyond public art, Richard Hambleton produced a variation of his "shadow" work, showing his "Shadowman" as a sort of "rodeo man," or rugged "Marlboro Man," often riding a bucking horse. This series was painted on canvas and other materials, where they could be displayed as works of art. Inspired by the Marlboro (cigarette) magazine advertisements, which in some ways exploited the image of a uniquely "American hero" to sell its product, Hambleton appropriated and modified the image to create a new series of work. Some paintings even have the Marlboro lettering of the advertisement showing through a layer of transparent paint, which presents to the viewer the original inspiration behind the work, together with the artist's dramatic alteration and personal expression. The result is a statement of how the boundaries between art and life, can be disrupted. The viewer is put into a position of confronting his or her preconceived ideas on various subjects not unlike the viewer who might have stumbled upon one of Hambleton's public art pieces. Not only the Marlboro Man image but the surrounding landscape (called "Marlboro Country" in the advertisements), was transformed to become part of the overall theme of this series.
Richard Hambleton followed with a new body of work he entitled, "Beautiful Paintings." In these pieces, Hambleton used transparent paint on a metallic leaf background in order to reflect light and color to and from the viewer, who unwittingly becomes part of the visual effect. Some pieces were done with metallic leaf on canvas and others on a mirror-like or metallic surface. With strong use of color, these pieces stand in stark contrast to his "shadow" work. Hambleton has stated that this work was a reaction against the abundance of figurative painting displayed in galleries at the time, to which he chose not include figurative work of his own. Hambleton said that he also intentionally sought out a different mood, "with a different sensibility," from his previous work.
During his career, Richard Hambleton's works have been shown internationally in world-class galleries and museums, including paintings on canvas and paper of his "shadow" work. Richard Hambleton's artwork has been represented in the Venice Biennale in 1984 and 1988, and his work is part of numerous permanent collections including that of the Museum of Modern Art.
In 2007, director of the Woodward Gallery of New York City, John Woodward, helped launch a resurgence of interest in Hambleton's work, by featuring Richard Hambleton in his first solo exhibition in over a decade. The resulting exhibition, entitled "The Beautiful Paintings," gained much recognition for Richard Hambleton, as it gathered the largest collection of the Beautiful Paintings series to date. The exhibit was also the first to associate the artist’s name with his most recent work, the Beautiful Paintings, in the public mind. Richard Hambleton even painted his trademark, a lone, black Shadowman figure, on the gallery’s wall in order to “safe-guard” his paintings, which also highlighted and added context to the artist's bold "post-Shadowman" direction.
In 2009, the works of Richard Hambleton were displayed in an exhibition celebrating his 40-year career as an artist entitled, "Richard Hambleton - New York." The exhibit was the result of a collaborative effort between Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, Andy Valmorbida, and Giorgio Armani. Thirty five pieces of Hambleton's work, spanning from the early 1980s to the present were exhibited, showing his "Shadowman" and "Marlboro Man" works on canvas (and other materials), presented side-by-side with his "Beautiful Paintings." The show was a great success and all the art work sold-out.
Part of the exhibit featured a series photographic images of photographer, author and music producer, Hank O'Neal, who had taken many photographs of the "Shadowman" works in 1982, and who also attended the show. O'Neal is said to have sought out examples of the "Shadowman" to photograph because he felt they were interesting examples of graffiti art, which itself was so prevalent at the time. Stunning in beauty and realism, O'Neal's "Shadowman" series now stand as both art and documentation, bringing an honest perspective to the nature of Richard Hambelton's early 1980s public art.
Presented at a space located at 560 Washington Street in New York City, the show was heavily publicized and featured as part of New York Fashion Week. Designed to be an "art event," similar to those in the days of Andy Warhol, the opening attracted many celebrities, including Mary J. Blige, Bruce Willis, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Aniston; as well as a host of supermodels of the fashion world, including Lily Donaldson and Bar Refaeli. The show opened on September 15, 2009, and is seen by some as firmly solidifying Richard Hambleton's distinguished place in the history of modern art.
In 2010, Richard Hambelton continued his comeback gaining renewed recognition with an exhibit of artwork in Milan, Italy at the Armani Teatro, presented by Giorgio Armani and curated by Andy Valmorbida and Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, which was also purported to be sold-out.
At the 2010 annual AIDS charity amfAR dinner party, held during the Cannes Film Festival, two paintings of Richard Hambleton were auctioned for a combined $920,000.00, to help raise funds for AIDS research. In May 2013 Richard Hambleton was featured in a solo exhibition entitled "Beautiful Paintings" at the Art Gallery at the Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Sleepy Hollow, NY. The exhibition was made possible by Woodward Gallery of New York City and the Friends of the Rockefeller State Park Preserve Art Gallery.
New York Times art critic Michael Brenson, when commenting on Hambleton's exceptional skill at handling paint, wrote, "When he throws white or black on the canvas, his waves break, his rodeo rider bucks, a man shot seems blown apart."
Papermag in October 2009 wrote of Hambleton: "Memo to Banksy: You owe Richard Hambleton a small fortune in royalties. You too, KAWS. Hambleton’s early ’80’s onsite works-dynamic, painted “Shadowmen” on street corners and in alleyways-are clear precursors of the early ’00’s graffiti-art boom, and Hambleton himself, a contemporary of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, one of its unsung godfathers".