Richard Hambleton was a pioneering street artist in 1980s New York. His haunting works didn’t call attention to the city’s high crime—they piggybacked on it.
When Richard Hambleton died late last month, he was hailed as a founding father of street art, the man who’d made the world safe for Banksy. From a PR standpoint, his exit couldn’t have been better timed. After years lost to illness and addiction, over the past decade he’d reemerged into the spotlight. The street art renaissance secured him splashy gallery shows and the sponsorship of Giorgio Armani. A documentary about his life, Shadowman, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. His work is included in an exhibition currently at the Museum of Modern Art about the alternative space Club 57, which 35 years ago was a hub of the East Village art scene.
The documentary is named for the series that won Hambleton his reputation in the early ’80s. Originally from Vancouver, he festooned New York with jet-black, life-size male silhouettes. With a splattery, macho, punk-rock edge, the Shadowmen were jarring, bold, and exciting. They were of a piece with a city untamed, back before Manhattan became what it is today, a glittering high-rise parking lot for overseas cash and a Mall of America where you can get rained on.