Art of Darkness: Banksy/ Blek Le Rat/ Richard Hambleton

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Richard Hambleton "Shadow Rider," circa 1985. Acrylic and sand on linen, 87" x 64.50". Signed on verso. Courtesy Chase Contemporary.

“From the darkness the works were born and revealed to the world at dawn” – Christopher Pussey

From September 18 to October 10, Chase Contemporary will host an exhibition of paintings by street art legends Banksy, Blek Le Rat, and Richard Hambleton. On view at the gallery’s East Hampton location, among the works featured will be Banksy’s famous “Haight Street Rat,” 2010, which was the subject of the documentary “Saving Banksy.” This is the first time the piece will be on exhibit in New York and with this presentation, Chase Contemporary aims to place one of the world’s most famous contemporary street artists — Banksy — alongside two pioneers of an earlier generation.

The world renowned provocateur Banksy is a graffiti writer from the UK who was able to put his work in incredibly difficult places. Seeing placement as his path as an artist, Banksy, who had seen Blek Le Rat’s street stencil paintings, decided to switch to figurative stencil art on the street and abandon graffiti. Banksy is quoted as saying, “Every time I think I have done something original, I realize Blek Le Rat did it 20 years before me and did it better.”

Banksy has also talked about how Richard Hambleton was an inspiration for his work, being the first internationally acclaimed public artist to create shadow silhouettes on urban walls. His shadow figures inspired a generation of new street artists to create black contours, using the city as their canvas.

Rats are one of Banksy’s greatest sources of inspiration and one of the most prolific subjects in his work. An anagram of “art,” the rat is an allegorical tool used by Banksy in his criticism of mankind. A vehicle for publicly confronting social issues, his animals are frequently anthropomorphized, placed into situations revealing human vices and flaws. Banksy’s rats can be interpreted as a metaphor for the regenerative nature of street art. Despite efforts by local governments to remove graffiti, new tags are always appearing on freshly painted walls. The same is true for rats, whose population is infamously uncontrollable.

French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat, known as the “father of stencil graffiti,” made his first trip to the United States in 1981. He was inspired by two things during that trip: graffiti on the New York subways, and the public work of Richard Hambleton. Both of these things inspired Blek to return to Paris and start stenciling rats all over the city, making him the first artist globally to create street art using stencils. By the early 1980s, Blek was decorating the 14th arrondissement with his signature black rat stencil image. To Blek, the rat image symbolizes the dissemination of art throughout the city, running rampant and freely. After seeing Hambleton’s work again, Blek decided to evolve his work into larger life-sized images of people, keeping primarily Hambleton’s black and white color palette.

Richard Hambleton was one of the most influential figures of the downtown New York art scene. In 1979, Hambleton moved permanently to the Lower East Side of New York. It was here that Hambleton gained notoriety for his “Shadowman” paintings of the early 1980s. A departure from the spontaneity of the traditional street tag, Hambleton’s paintings were site-specific conceptual works, intended to provoke unsuspecting pedestrians with a moment of contemplation. Over the course of the next decade, his ominous silhouettes painted in unsuspecting corners, alleys, and side streets had appeared in over 600 locations in major cities including New York City, London, Paris, as well as both sides of the Berlin Wall.

“Art of Darkness: Banksy/Blek Le Rat/Richard Hambleton” will be on view from September 18 to October 10, at Chase Contemporary, 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. For details, visit chasecontemporary.com.

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