“To me, the city is not a blank canvas. It’s a picture; a motion picture containing sociological and psychological elements. My urban work is added to and becomes a part of that picture… the blank canvas is in the studio. I give it definition, I work within its perimeters – I paint the entire picture…”
Richard Hambleton featured in his first European solo exhibition since 1985, at the Armani Teatro in Milan, Via Bergognone 59. The show opened in February 2010 with a glittering event that saw the presence of many personalities. Roberta Armani, Giorgio Armani, Andy Valmorbida, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, Clive Owen, Lapo Elkann, Mario Testino, Carine Roitfeld, Tatiana Santo Domingo, Eugenie & Stavros Niarchos, Bianca Brandolini, Eva Riccobono, Matteo Ceccarini, Francesca Versace, Margherita Missioni, Julia Restoin Roitfeld, Matilde Borromeo were there amongst photographers and selected guests and journalists.
The exhibition was curated by Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida. Roitfeld’s art dealership Feedback Ltd. Works with emerging talents, giving them the chance to sell their art. The show was at Armani Teatro, Via Bergognone 59 (near Porta Genova station).
It was a great event. The venue is in exposed concrete, massive spaces rendered surprisingly warm by artful lighting. It is eminently suitable for an exhibition of this type, dramatic and often large works. Waiters circulated with delectable fingerfood set out on black trays, including sparkling white and serviettes (black, of course). The photographers present were fairly discreet and the event had an atmosphere of assured, understated luxury.
Richard Hambleton, born in Vancouver, Canada, in 1954, is one of the great three American Expressionist street artists, with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He was the first to make his mark in the serious art world. Today he is the only survivor, and this cannot be ascribed to a tranquil lifestyle. He was as self-destructive as anyone in that volatile generation, but was capable, apart from surviving, of continuing to work, and of gradually evolving his style. Marcia Resnick said of Hambleton, “His life was so inundated in blood. Shooting up all the time. He was a messy junkie. There was no hiding it with him.” At that time, Hambleton was making small, square paintings, on canvas glued to woodblocks, covered in gold leaf, and overlaid with patterns in dark red. His own blood.
From 1976 to 1979, Hambleton’s “Mass Murder” installations were placed onto streets in over 15 cities. They reproduced the chalk body-outlines and blood splatters of violent crime. (A few of these have been added to Milan’s streets in the vicinity of the gallery). “With Mass Murder something had happened.Someone was murdered on the sidewalk,” he says. “But with the Shadow work, you walked around the corner and you saw somebody in a doorway. There was somebody there. It was very direct. Like Richard Serra in a way. It was very in your face and very immediate.” In the early 1980s, he began the “Shadowman” series, dark, splattery monochromatic paintings – silhouettes painted on the walls of New York and elsewhere. His Shadowmen accompanied him when he travelled in Asia and Europe in the mid 1980s. When he returned to the USA in the 1990s, he began on another style of work, “The Beautiful Paintings.” These are truly this, particularly in comparison with his earlier work, because he utilizes silver and gold leaf to create a luminous ground, over which he layers glazes of pure colour with a resinous transparency.
Hambleton himself has said, “My Beautiful Paintings are not landscapes, seascapes or rainscapes – they are Escapes.” That was a hard time for him. His gigantic collection of works by Haring and Basquiat – acquired by swaps with his own works – were sold when he failed to make payments to a storage company. He spent a period homeless, and transferred his survival instincts to the streets.
Today, Richard Hambleton continues to work in the neighbourhood where he has lived for over 30 years.