Red Shadow Head by Richard Hambleton, 2015

Richard Hambleton

Canadian Street Artist Richard Hambleton (1952-2017) is frequently referred to as the ‘Godfather of Street Art’ and is most known for his repetitive motif of a black silhouetted figure known as “The Shadowman”. Born in 1952 in Vancouver, Hambleton, later known as ‘The Shadowman’,  studied at the Emily Carr School of Art in Vancouver before beginning his “Image Mass Murder” Series under the pseudonym ‘Mr. Ree’. This series consisted of fake police chalk outlines on sidewalks splashed with blood-red paint to imitate a crime scene. After moving to New York in 1979, Hambleton became part of the downtown NYC art scene with his peers Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat among others, at Club 57, a bar on St Marks Place in the East Village where they began forming the Street Art Landscape. 

Hambleton’s “Shadowman” paintings gained him recognition as they were life-size silhouetted images of a person in black paint, illustrated onto many buildings in New York City.  He would paint his menacing figures in dark alleyways or behind a street light in order to exert a physical response from his audience. When speaking of this project to People Magazine in 1984, Hambleton said: “I painted the town black… [The Shadowmen] could represent watchmen or danger or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust or even my own shadow”. This project concentrated on the audience’s psyche and played on the notion of knowing what is around the corner.  Hambleton later expanded this project to cities such as Paris, Berlin, and London. In 1984, he painted 17 life-size figures on the East Side of the Berlin Wall.  He eventually painted these motifs on canvases and paper. 

In 2017, the documentary “Shadowman” was created which followed Hambleton’s career and life and premiered a few months prior to his death. It’s undeniable that he inspired a new generation of artists, including Blek le Rat, who first saw Hambleton’s work in Paris as well as British Street Artist Banksy. Hambelton participated in the 1984 and 1988 Venice Biennale. 

Hambleton died on October 29, 2017, in New York, NY. Today, Hambleton’s works are held in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.

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