Spotlight: How 18th-century Romanticism inspired artist Richard Hambleton, the “godfather” of street art

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About the artist: Canadian-born artist Richard Hambleton (1952-2017) was a staple of the downtown New York art scene in the 1970s and 1980s, best known for his street art interventions, which made him earned the nickname “the godfather of street art”.

Part of a circle that included Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, Hambleton continued to create works until his death in 2017. Now a recently opened retrospective titled “Beyond the Shadow Manat New York’s Chase Contemporary brings together a range of works by Hambleton created over 40 years between 1976 and 2017, including shadow paintings, seascapes and previously unseen photographs by the artist.

Richard Hambleton, Shadow standing (1999). Courtesy of Chase Contemporary.

Why we love it: The wide-ranging exhibition is an insightful insight into Hambleton’s career and offers unique insight into the artist’s creative life. Hambleton’s career-defining shadow paintings, which the artist began putting on buildings in midtown Manhattan overnight, remain haunting decades later. In that sense, the show is a fitting inaugural exhibition for Chase Contemporary’s newly opened 10,000-square-foot gallery in SoHo, because the artist’s legacy is so deeply tied to the neighborhood’s history.

Richard Hambleton, Clooney (2016).  Courtesy of Chase Contemporary.

Richard Hambleton, Clooney (2016). Courtesy of Chase Contemporary.

But as the title of the exhibit suggests, the show goes “Beyond the Shadowman,” offering windows into lesser-known aspects of his career. The exhibition retraces four bodies of works… »mass murder,” “Night life,” “Marlboro Man,” and “Seascapes”— over the decades. The seascapes, in particular, reflect the artist’s engagement with the Romantic painters of the late 19th century. These expressive images simultaneously incorporate Barnett Newman’s signature “zip”, the vertical band used to define the spatial structure of his work.

Richard Hambleton, Untitled (Red Seascape) (1986).  Courtesy of Chase Contemporary.

Richard Hambleton, Untitled (Red Seascape) (1986). Courtesy of Chase Contemporary.

According to the Gallery: “The exhibition will show the artist’s work in its origins, as many public shadow figures of the early 1980s were painted on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and SoHo. Hambleton began to paint his shadow figures – the “Night life” series – across the Lower East Side in the early 1980s, for which he received extraordinary recognition. The mystery of the man working at night and the savage black figures that loom around the city echoed the mystique of Hambleton’s previous character Mr. Ree and his murder scenes from 1976 to 1979. At the height of his fame, Hambleton moved away from shadow figures for a time to focus on modern landscape painting. The landscapes were painted in the style of 19th century Romanticism with moody skylines and fierce waves.

Richard Hambleton: Beyond the Shadow Manis on view at Chase Contemporary, New York, through May 29, 2022.

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