The Godfather of Street Art
Born in Vancouver, Canada in 1954, Richard Hambleton defines his work as “Public Art”. Hambleton and his collaborators, Keith Haring and Jean Michele Basquiat, are credited as being major players in the 1980s art scene. Essentially, they were the original creators of street art, bringing art from galleries and museums directly to the public. They provoked the urban aesthetic revolution by appropriating the street and its actors. From 1976 to 1978, Hambleton covered New York city in white chalk outlines of graphic fictional murders, in a series he calls Image Mass Murder. Traces of red paint added a realistic effect of victims’ blood pooling in their silhouettes. These realistic scenes left by an anonymous street artist helped reduce crime rates in 14 major North American cities, and were quick to raise interest in their founder.
The I Only Have Eyes for You series consisted of over 700 prints on paper with the photographic image of the artist. These works, emulated in real-life size, were produced by a non-permanent technique. The print is uniformly degraded and disappears after a few months, leaving a ghostly silhouette of white paper on the wall.
While Haring and Basquiat’s work was colorful and eye-catching, Hambleton’s work tended to veer towards darkness, perhaps reflecting the inner workings of a darker psyche. His dark paintings on New York Street corners and in major cities across the world in the 70’s and 80’s, have sealed the reputation of the artist, with the major theme of the evolution of street violence and war: the mass murder scenes evocate the death of Bomb A.
Like Basquiat who died at 27, Hambleton was heavily addicted to drugs. Moreover, he survived and, simultaneously, his career had a huge break, during which the artist managed to both build and sink in his own darkness – a darkness he also managed to turn into hope and creativity. One could surmise that he used his art to come back to the light.
After well over a decade out of the limelight, Hambleton re-emerged around 2002 with exhibitions in Italy and the US. Since 2007, his new work, often featuring landscapes as part of his continuing Beautiful Paintings series, has achieved keen critical reception. His work and influence is a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic.
One critic wrote “Memo to Banksy: You owe Richard Hambleton a small fortune in royalties…”
In the auction rooms, in 2010, two of his paintings achieved a combined $920,000.
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