In the early 1980s, when graffiti seemed to be everywhere, hundreds of startling black-painted silhouettes appeared mysteriously on buildings on the Lower East Side and in other parts of Manhattan. The spectral, life-size, menacing figures lurked and skulked and leapt. Some of their heads, with paint splattered upward, seemed to be exploding.
Richard Hambleton, the Canadian-born conceptual artist who painted them all (sometimes after fleeing the police, paint bucket in hand), was known as “the Shadowman.”
“I painted the town black,” Mr. Hambleton told People magazine in 1984. “They could represent watchmen or danger or the shadows of a human body after a nuclear holocaust or even my own shadow.”
He became part of the downtown art scene with his contemporaries Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat at Club 57, a basement bar on St. Marks Place in the East Village that is the subject of a new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, complete with one of Mr. Hambleton’s “Shadowman” works.