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Before Banksy and Basquiat, There Was Shadowman

Premiering at Tribeca Film Festival, ‘Shadowman’ is a documentary about the incredible talent and struggles of pioneering street artist Richard Hambleton.

Long before Banksy's vivid and satirical street art, and even the graffiti work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, there was street artist Richard Hambleton. A classically trained painter, Hambleton was known throughout the 80s for works that played on Lower Manhattan's seedy and dangerous reputation, as well as its DIY energy. First came his chalk outlines (which also appeared in other cities), then came mysterious "shadow paintings" depicting a Shadowman lurking in the city's darker corridors. Hambleton, whose star fell just as Basquiat and Haring's reputations became immortalized and their artworks became investment properties, is now the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Oren Jacoby. Premiering today at the Tribeca Film Festival, Shadowman tracks the artist's various rises, falls, and resurrections, and coincides with the exhibition I Only Have Eyes For You, which is now on at Woodward Gallery until May 5th.


As Shadowman details, the Vancouver-born artist, working on a grant from the city, took his "murder mystery" chalk outline paintings on an American West Coast tour of Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He then worked his way across the United States, arriving in New York City in 1978, right as the Lower East Side's music and arts scenes were heating up. His murder mysterious, staged in TriBeCa and elsewhere, with its blood red paint splashed across white outlines, immediately unnerved everyone, including the NYPD. This brought Hambleton much media attention, and made him something of an art world star.

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