A Downtown Artist Who Cast a Long Shadow

A Downtown Artist Who Cast a Long Shadow


“Richard could be charming and charismatic but he was a difficult character and did things on his own terms ” Mr. Jacoby said in an interview shortly after the artist’s death. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Photo

“42nd Street” by Walker Evans, from 1929, is one of several original prints by Depression-era photographers that hang in the Manhattan apartment of Mr. Jacoby.

Credit
Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

You own several original prints by photographers who defined their times. How did you acquire them?

My father [Irving Jacoby] was a documentary filmmaker in the ’30s and friends with a group of photographers and filmmakers, among them Ben Shahn and Walker Evans. He also did a film about Edward Weston toward the end of Weston’s life. After he died, my mom said there was a box of his in the basement that might have some pictures. And sure enough …

“Shadowman” is set in New York’s downtown art scene of the ’80s. Were you a part of it?

I lived right around the corner from the Mudd Club. You’d wander around these empty streets — they were just beginning to call it TriBeCa. I remember first seeing Richard’s “Shadowman” street paintings there. Later, my friend Hank O’Neal showed me a photo he’d taken of a “Shadowman” and introduced me to Richard just as he was making his comeback. [A Hambleton painting is displayed in the exhibition “Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978-1983,” on view through April 1 at the Museum of Modern Art.]

Mr. Hambleton was initially the dominant artist in that scene — his paintings sold for more than Keith Haring’s and Basquiat’s.

Richard was getting $15,000 or $20,000 more than the others. That Basquiat that sold [in May] for $110 million? The people who sold that bought it for $19,000.

Photo

“Death Valley” (1948), by Edward Weston, who was the subject of a film by Mr. Jacoby’s father, Irving Jacoby, shortly before Weston’s death.

Credit
Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

Did Mr. Hambleton’s sensibilities clash with those of his contemporaries?

Richard combined the New York School of Rothko, de Kooning and Pollock with the punk sensibility and power of the painter. He was conscientiously fighting against the commodification of art and a generation of artists who wanted to be famous and make money.

He didn’t exactly endear himself to gallery owners.

When Basquiat died, Mary Boone wanted to feature Richard. Apparently, he came to her gallery, ripped up one of his paintings and said, “I don’t want you to show my work.” One of Richard’s career-killing moves.

How did you acquire your “Shadowman” painting?

In 2012, a year or two after I’d started the film but didn’t think it was going to happen — Richard had stopped responding to our efforts to film him — I ran into him one day, and he asked if I wanted to buy one of his paintings for a couple hundred bucks. He was churning those out, I think, to get food money.

When “Shadowman” had its premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, did Mr. Hambleton attend?

He came to the premiere but fled at the end. He was very upset — it revived his memories of his anger at dealers who never paid him. He was staying in a fleabag on the Lower East Side and had convinced the hotel’s owner to let him paint on the rooftop, hanging his canvases on clotheslines to dry. People who supported Richard wanted him to be on Easy Street. But Easy Street was not Richard’s domain. He lived on Uneasy Street — that’s where he wanted to be, and that’s where he died.

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