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Richard Hambleton: The Godfather of Street Art

The New York artist brings his collection, and a few unseen pieces, on a road show and hits London's The Dairy tonight

Before Banksy and Blek le Rat, in a heady era of 80s street art, a new counterculture hit New York City. Their brand of guerrilla art heralded social activism through street culture. The East Village art movement was spurred on by a new version of creative mass media, using concrete as their blank canvas. Whilst its better-known members, such Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, have become art icons, a new London exhibition shows the complete works of Richard Hambleton, the last surviving member of the gang.

Hambleton imposed his artistic ideology throughout New York's streets using the urban landscape to showcase his ideals. Pedestrians were unknowing spectators without seeing his face, name or identity. His was a new kind of expression; graphic, monochrome and hyper-enlarged. 'Shadow Men' loomed large on unsuspecting pedestrians in meek New York street corners and 'Image Mass Murder' depicted realistic crime scenes across US states and Canadian cities. Before the 90s graffiti art boom, Hambleton became the first street artist to export his work all over the world; his images popped up all over of New York and then the world, without overly commoditizing his work.

Witnessing first-hand the drugs and discord of falling into a high-profile, the incognito artist decidedly slipped below the radar. But last year, almost 40 of his works were shown for the first time in 25 years during an art event in the style of Andy Warhol. The exhibition, curated by Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld and Andy Valmorbida, in collaboration with Giorgio Armani, earned both critical and commercial acclaim. Finally reaching London this week, Richard Hambleton: The Godfather of Street Art launches tonight at The Dairy.

Richard Hambleton: The Godfather of Street Art, The Dairy, 7 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PG, until December 3, 2010