Richard Hambleton Positioned As Unrivaled Twentieth Century Master In Extensive Career Retrospective Showcasing Rare And Unseen Works
An uprising of emotion awakens us as we encounter a monumental seascape. Our gaze is redirected as the gestural elegance depicting breaking waves is transformed into a triptych by two rigid, black vertical bands.
Embrace the rare opportunity to be humbled and inspired by Richard Hambleton’s Mutiny (1985), on view as part of a sweeping retrospective that redefines the oeuvre of the fine artist who rose to prominence alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, collaborating on Manhattan’s once-gritty Lower East Side. Spanning more than 22-feet long, the imposing acrylic painting was on view twice in New York, at a Hambleton show at Piezo Electric Gallery in 1985, and at Gallery Urban’s Abstraction as Landscape exhibition in 1989.
The masterwork “renders the awesome power of nature as an insatiable force,” Chase Contemporary Director Isabel Sullivan writes in the catalog for Beyond the Shadowman, on view at the gallery’s SoHo flagship through May 29. Sullivan likens the passionate Seascape to Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (1830), commemorating the July Revolution which ousted King Charles X of France.
The retrospective re-contextualizes Hambleton beyond street art, revealing how he borrows from and redefines art history. Hambleton references pioneering color field painter Barnett Newman’s signature bands, known as “zips,” in Mutiny and other works that journey across genres and styles.
From his serene yet fierce Seascapes to his looming and singular Shadow Man, Horse and Rider, and Marlboro Man figures, Hambleton’s visceral work takes us by storm on an impassioned exploration of more than four decades. Chase Contemporary features never-before-seen photographs of Hambleton shot between 1976 and 1979 that invite us into his conceptual investigation of dark and complex themes and imagery. Hambleton’s provocative and evocative work is simultaneously raw and refined, transcending categorization.
“This extraordinary gathering of artworks is a testament to Richard Hambleton’s wide-ranging exceptional artistic abilities in the studio, that may have previously, at times, taken a backseat to his historic public art,” said Brian Vincent Kelly, the executor of the Hambleton estate. “And (the exhibition catalog) comes with an equally historic essay by renowned art critic Carlo McCormick.”
None of the works in Beyond the Shadowman come directly from the estate, which only sells directly through Sotheby’s. This exhibition builds on Richard Hambleton: SHADOWMAN at Chase Contemporary’s former Chelsea location in 2019, underscoring the gallery’s commitment to representing the scope and depth of Hambleton’s defiant mastery and framing his legacy from the streets to the studio. The 10,000-square-foot SoHo space enables us to engage with the magnitude of Hambleton’s impact on the art world, beginning with his Image Mass Murder public art series, executing some 620 murder scenes under the pseudonym Mr. Ree between April 1976 and October 1979 throughout major cities in the United States and his native Canada. We trace his evolution across his Nightlife series celebrating the inimitable Lower East Side in the early 1980s. Nightlife cemented Hambleton as a towering figure in the art world, showing at international galleries throughout the United States and Canada, as well the Venice Biennale in 1984 and in 1988.
At his pinnacle, Hambleton eschewed his ubiquitous, eerie figures for a while to explore modern landscape painting, elegantly shifting from realism to what Sullivan compares to 19th century Romanticism. Hambleton awakens our curiosity, as we navigate the interplay of nature and human construct, his Seascapes diving into that fungible space.
Explosive vigor erupts from the left of the canvas where an airborne Shadow Man kicks a frenzy of heavy, gestural brushstrokes that become pixelated as they splatter and propel to the right. Kicking Shadow Man (1997) exemplifies how Hambleton catapults motifs from street art into museum-quality paintings marked by meticulous composition. The immense Kicking Shadow Man will grace the cover of Richard Hambleton: Godfather of Street Art by Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida, a career retrospective featuring 200 images, to be published by Rizolli on June 28.
Witnessing Hambleton’s creative agility and ability to convey myriad sensations and sentiments, our mood alters as we admire the lush teal bands that frame Untitled (Green Seascape) (1986), reprising Newman’s zips. We’re drawn in by the otherworldly Seascape, abstracted by the sensuous brushstrokes emitting heavenly rays, and we’re compelled to step back as we contemplate the bold black bands.
Shadow Rider (circa 1985) captivates and enthralls, building texture with sand and acrylic on linen to amplify the frenzied movement of the figure galloping to the right. Hambleton plays with a collision with his beloved Shadow Man and Rider in this self referential tour de force.
Hambleton teases our psyche with a mischievous shriek, depicting a cat with a bow tie and staring directly at us, its tail jutting into the air, a known sign of feline contentment and confidence. Three legs visible, Clooney (2016) gives us a cheeky peek at its behind, the cat dominating the square canvas. The audacious subject reminded my playwright-writer husband Michael Maiello of Behemoth, the gigantic, diabolic black cat who speaks, struts on its hind legs, and sometimes morphs into human form in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Like Hambleton, Bulgakov was a visionary genius. Written in the Soviet Union between 1928 and 1940, a censored version of the satirical novel was first published in Moscow magazine in 1966–1967, more than two-and-half decades after the writer’s death. The manuscript was finally published as a book in 1967, in Paris. More than four years after his death, this exhibition recognizes Hambleton’s full art historical significance.
Make time to wander throughout the exhibition, traversing a wide range of works that clearly position Hambleton as a 20th century master.