THE AMERICAN POP EXPRESSIONIST
Richard Hambleton is the Godfather of Street Art. Much of what has been written on Richard Hambleton has focused on the Artist’s early “public art-street art”. As a conceptual artist, Hambleton produced work using the urban canvas to evoke public reaction. He was reputed to be elusive and genius. Richard Hambleton is the original Pop Expressionist with unforgettable images that 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 created to mimic chalk-body
outlines and blood splattered crime scenes of what appeared to be “victims”. Early on, Richard’s works freshly discovered in major Cities ignited an anxiety-induced phenomenon as people were unaware of
the identity of the artist. Long had graffiti been seen in public spaces, however Richard Hambleton was not engaging in random acts, but serious art installations that engaged the general public to observe and accept the fragility of being. The immediate impact to his work ignited 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 life- seen in New York City, London, France, Italy and on the East and West sides of the Berlin Wall. Hambleton has said, “…what makes them exciting is the power of the viewer’s imagination- that split second experience when you see the figures, that matter.”
Richard Hambleton was at the flashpoint of the downtown New York art scene; one of the founding contributors of the burgeoning art community. Along with close friends Keith Haring & Jean-Michel
Basquiat, he created a sensation in the early 1980’s that is relevant today. In 1983, The International Herald Tribune wrote a feature story on the Graffiti art boom and the feature stated “Lovers of graffiti art may have to pay up to $10,000 for a Jean-Michel Basquiat and up to $15,000 for a Keith Haring or Richard Hambleton”. A Hambleton’s army of shadow silhouettes are reminders of human life- vulnerable and intense. Hambleton left the U.S. again, personally invited this time, to make his mark in Europe and Asia in the mid 80’s. He was embraced and celebrated along his travels.
Hambleton’s “Shadow” series of night life continued internationally raising awareness and the critical acclaim of the artist as “The Shadowman”.
Back in the US, his core circle of artists was changing. Death came early to Warhol, Basquiat and Haring. Referenced alongside these important artists at the time, each artist had left behind their
signature style, while Hambleton survived, eluding death, to continue his path of creativity. In the 1990’s, Richard conceived to evoke another emotion, this time from work he produced in his studio- The Beautiful Paintings. For those familiar with his earlier series, this was in stark contrast with abstracted, colorful images of beauty with gold and silver leaf appearing to be seascapes, landscapes, oceanscapes- escapes. His followers were awed by Hambleton’s seemingly fluid transition to the sublime. Hambleton does not believe that social recognition is what defines a great artist, and therefore, despite and in spite of the fame that befell many of his peers, Richard ignored it. He wanted his art to be interpreted with reaction. He was submerged in making important, lasting art, not necessarily in the critic’s survey of him personally.
Hambleton today remains one of the only surviving members of that early cutting- edge downtown art movement. He continues to live and create in the neighborhood to which he laid claim for over 30 years. Richard Hambleton has had many exhibitions, both solo and group. His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Check Point Charlie Museum and The Zellermeyer in Berlin; The Andy Warhol Museum, Austin Museum of Art, Milwaukee Art Museum, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum, The Queens Museum, and Harvard University.
He was chosen for the Venice Biennale in 1984. Hambleton has been featured in most major press publications around the world including ArtForum, Artnews, Art in America, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, Architectural Digest, LIFE magazine and will be chronicled in the forthcoming book from Taschen- Trespass: A History of Un-commissioned Public Art.Twitter, Facebook