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New film explores the work of street artist Richard Hambleton
Richard Hambleton. Photographer: Hank O’Neal. Courtesy of Film Movement, Storyville Films and Motto Pictures.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the 1980s, Richard Hambleton was the Shadowman, a specter in the night who painted hundreds of startling silhouettes on the walls of lower Manhattan and, along with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, sparked the street art movement. After drug addiction and homelessness sent him spinning out of the art scene for 20 years, the Shadowman appears to get a second chance...but will he take it?

Shadowman plunges the viewer into the chaotic life of a forgotten artist, from early fame as a painter and denizen of the Lower East Side, through his struggles with heroin, to his surprising comeback as street art exploded to become one of the most popular and lucrative art movements in the world. Before Banksy, there was Hambleton.

Richard Hambleton first made a name for himself with the conceptual shadow paintings that haunted New York’s streets. By the mid-'80s, the world had discovered this extraordinary painter and he began selling canvases for high figures instead of painting on walls for nothing. At the height of his first commercial and critical success in the 80's, Hambleton was featured in LIFE magazine and acclaimed at the Venice Biennale. Seemingly uncomfortable with his own success, he alienated those around him, from art dealers to close friends. Critics revered him as a definitive American Pop-Expressionist artist. But Hambleton was never embraced by the elite NY galleries. In the 1990s, succumbing to his addiction, he vanished from the gallery scene. Just as suddenly as he had appeared, Richard Hambleton disappeared, first on a tour in Europe, then in homeless squalor back in the Lower East Side.

In 2009 Hambleton suddenly resurfaced, supported by two young art dealers, Andy Valmorbida and Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, working with Giorgio Armani. He had been steadily working, his talent still intact after years underground. Hambleton started producing larger, more exciting pictures with the same demonic spirit and speed he’d demonstrated in the 1980s. There were shows, articles, dinners, worldwide fame, and money. But within a few years, he was alienating his new patrons and was catapulted back to his old life. The film captures this upward and downward spiral, always focusing on Hambleton's undaunted will to paint.

Shadowman is a trip down a rabbit hole into the mystifying, agonizing, exhilarating, and sometimes frightening world of a brilliant artist in the thrall of creation and addiction. It features rare footage of the 1980s music and art scene, bringing to the screen an indelible portrait of New York City from a lost, transformative time. Its three most admired and groundbreaking artists were friends and rivals: Jean-Michel Basquiat, dead at 27; Keith Haring, dead at 31; and Hambleton, remarkably still alive and working in 2017 after years of self-inflicted abuse. For three decades he has defined himself by living outside the system, outside the studio, even outside the law – but always producing more work.

SHADOWMAN shows one of our most influential living painters – an elusive artist on a heroic journey, in what he calls his “final days.”

Canadian artist Richard Hambleton was born in Vancouver, BC in 1952. He relocated to New York City in the late 70s and has lived there ever since. Hambleton is the surviving member of a group that included Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat who emerged from the downtown New York City scene during the booming art market of the 1980s. Hambleton is regarded today as the Godfather of Street Art.

Hambleton was formally trained, receiving an Advanced Diploma from the Vancouver School of Art in 1975. He was Founder and Co-Director of the “Pumps” Center for Alternative Art, a gallery, performance and video space in Vancouver.

Hambleton's early work included the Image Mass Murder series. These were done on the streets of 15 major cities across the US and Canada. From 1976 to 1978 he painted an outline around bodies of volunteer "homicide victims" that simulated police chalk drawings. He splashed red paint on the outline, leaving behind a realistic looking crime scene. Like Hambleton's later "Shadowman" paintings, the Image Mass Murder "crime scenes" would often have the effect of startling or shocking passersby.

In 1979 Hambleton moved permanently to the Lower East Side of New York and gained notoriety for "Shadowman" paintings that continued to appear throughout the early 1980s. Each painting was a life-sized silhouetted of a mysterious person, or " shadow figure." These "shadows" were splashed and brushed with black paint on hundreds of buildings and other structures across NY City. Locations were calculated for maximum impact upon unsuspecting pedestrians. Hambleton later expanded the scope of his project and painted "Shadowmen" in other cities, including Paris, London, Rome, and Venice. In 1983, during Malcolm McLaren's fashion design partnership with Vivienne Westwood, they collaborated with Hambleton to create a "Shadowman" jersey skirt. In 1984, Hambleton painted 17 life-size figures on the East side of the Berlin Wall, returning a year later to paint more figures on the West side of the Wall.

After his public art, Hambleton produced a variation of his "shadows” as a "Rodeo” horse and rider or rugged “Marlboro Man” riding a bucking horse. This series was painted on canvas and other materials, and could be displayed in galleries.
Hambleton then produced a series that he called "Beautiful Paintings." With strong expressionistic use of color, these pieces are very different than his earlier work. Hambleton has stated that this work was a reaction against the abundance of figurative painting being displayed in galleries at the time and that he was intentionally seeking a different effect "with a different sensibility," than his previous work.

During his career, Hambleton's works have been shown internationally, including paintings on canvas and paper of his "shadow" work. He was included in the Venice Biennale in 1984 and 1988. From the late 1980s until 2005 Richard stopped showing in galleries and disappeared from public life. His circumstances in this period have been shrouded in mystery. In 2009-11, a retrospective of works by Hambleton, covering his 40-year career, were displayed in a series of exhibitions entitled "Richard Hambleton - New York" in six shows around the world: in New York (Tribeca), Milan, the Cannes Film Festival, Moscow, London and New York (Park Ave.) They included his "Shadowman" and "Marlboro Man" works on canvas (and other materials), presented side-by-side with his "Beautiful Paintings. Hambleton’s 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, Harvard University, and the private collection of David Rockefeller. Hambleton has been featured in ArtForum, Art in America, The International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, French Vogue, V Magazine, Architectural Digest, LIFE, and recently chronicled in the urban art book from Taschen, Trespass: A History of Un-commissioned Public Art, and Siman Media Works–XCIA’s Street Art Project: The First Four Decades by Hank O’Neal.

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