“I painted the town black."
– RICHARD HAMBLETON
Richard Hambleton was a contemporary American-Canadian graffiti artist, Often referred to as the “godfather of street art.” Along with his contemporaries Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hambleton painted directly on the streets of New York and achieved success during the art boom of the 1980s. Born in June of 1954 in Vancouver, Canada, he was best known for his Image Mass Murder series, wherein he painted chalk outlines around volunteer “victims” splashed red paint, thereby leaving fictional and violent crime scenes behind in over 15 cities. As time passed, Hambleton gradually transitioned to work in the studio, producing a body of work he titled the Beautiful Paintings. “I’ve been doing public art for a long time, and studio work, and there’s a relationship between the two of them,” he remarked of the shift in his practice. A reclusive artist, Hambleton lived and worked in New York City’s Lower East Side until his death on October 29, 2017.
Hambleton’s unforgettable images have permeated our collective consciousness for over three decades now. From 1976-1979 Hambleton’s “Mass Murder” installation was secretly placed onto streets in over 15 cities, in order to mimic the chalk-body outlines and blood splattered crime scenes of what appeared to be “victims”. Early on, when Hambleton’s works were freshly discovered in major cities, they ignited an anxiety-induced phenomenon as people were unaware of the identity of the artist. Graffiti had long been seen in public spaces. Hambleton, however, was not engaged in random acts, but serious art installations that prompted the general public to observe and accept the fragility of being.
The immediate impact of his work gave life to his form of popular expression: a social experiment. In the early 1980’s, Richard Hambleton began his “Shadowman” series. Each of over 600 dark, ominous, shadowy figures were painted in an unexpected corner, alley, or side street. The powerful blackened “Shadowman” works became legendary guardians in a secret mission to disable the emotional stability of our everyday lives seen in New York City, London, France and Italy, as well as on the East and West sides of the Berlin Wall.