Reviewed by: Ryan Mclelland

Oren Jacoby’s brilliant documentary Shadowman tells the story  of Richard Hambleton, an artist who became huge in the eighties along with fellow NYC artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was the precursor to artists like Banksy, who has said that Hambleton was a massive influence on his work. But as Haring and Basquiat became famous worldwide after their deaths, Hambleton lived on but disappeared from the limelight.

Why? The doc is quite blunt in what happened in Hambleton’s life. This isn’t a puff piece about the brilliance of Hambleton’s work. Rather it shows the highs and lows of a brilliant but troubled man who got very into drugs and went from man making hundreds of thousands of dollars to nothing. To a man who would continue to paint (and live) no matter how much heroin he put into his body. A homeless man who would sell his paintings just for food.  Who would use his own blood when he ran out of paint.  An artist in every sense of the word.

The documentary does a great job explaining to the audience about late 70s/early 80s New York. The seediness. The prostitutes in Times Square. The drugs. The art scene that took over the entire world. Hambleton’s street art became well known throughout New York and as Hambleton, Haring, and Basquait started painting such memorable pieces during that period they became known not just in New York but worldwide.

Was it all too much for Hambleton? Or was it just the usual pratfalls that artists face? Whatever it is, Hambleton forwent money and fame for drugs and homelessness. It’s all here in Shadowman. The life Hambleton lived. Those he surrounded himself with through the good and the bad. The need to keep painting no matter what was happening in his life. Finally there is a chance to break out in the art world again some twenty years later. It is a stunning story that this man gets a huge second chance. But will he blow it? Anyone who knows addiction and mental illness may know how this story ends. It is just one hell of a journey getting there.

I really only knew the name Richard Hambleton but never knew much about him except that he was known as an “early graffiti artist.” That was definitely wrong as Hambleton really was a masterful street artist. In watching Shadowman I really got to know about the man and see all of the brilliant works he’s done.

This is a beautiful doc for those who love documentaries or the art world. I’ll warn again that it pulls no punches and really show what Hambleton went through on his way to the bottom. Perhaps that’s what makes Shadowman even more brilliant. It doesn’t shy away from the bad. It brings it to light and shows the destruction drugs can cause. But Hambleton gained one more fan after this documentary and I’m truly stunned by what he’s accomplished. Shadowman is a raw, earnest look at the New York art scene that is always engaging and truly exceptional. Even if it is really sad to hear about the life Hambleton lived.


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