The Advocate, May 12, 1987, book review excerpt by Darrell Yates Rist
Larry Stanton: Painting and Drawing is a Twelvetrees book of a different order. Stanton, a Greenwich Village artist, died of AIDS in 1984, his accomplishment little recognized beyond a group of devoted friends. His work in this book is witness to his talent, a eulogy to a man who gave us much while we weren’t watching, a mournful cry for a beautifully creative life cut short.
The poignancy of Stanton’s work, I think, is in the eyes – like the two dark blue orbs that stare out in Stanton’s self portrait on the jacket of the book, searching, vulnerable, even frightened, hurt. Or it’s in the hair, quickly pencil-stroked, sometimes snipped curls, cartoonesque, or richly painted. Or it’s in the mood of the cheek, a somber smudge of shadow or a vibrant cross –hatch, sometimes layers of fast curving lines, the masks we wear before we know that someone else is watching or because we know we are the object of another’s fascinated eyes. Stanton seemed to capture with the keenest eye and hand the person, not as he or she WAS, but as that person had DECIDED he or she would be – it is individual will that is captured so deftly here, the restless, timeless metamorphosis that is the center of our lives.
Stanton’s life was somewhat of a tortured one. Alcoholic, he suffered black, psychotic depressions stemming from childhood torment with his father. He was lost at times in his talent, desolate at other times without the solace of it. Like many children of the 1960s – he was 37 when he died – he found himself late. When AIDS took his life, he’d just begun fulfilling it. . . . .
These portraits and the memorials written for their artist are a monument to everyone who, like Larry Stanton, created wonder in his life, bequeathing it to us who remain alive.
The Advocate, Portfolio, March 29, 1988
Larry Stanton was an artist who lived and painted in New York City until he died of AIDS at the age of 37. His work reflects his fascination with people. The world Stanton portrayed was a small one, bounded by the limits of where he lived and worked. It encompassed the people who entered into his life, his friends, his family, and the young men he met. His work provides a record of life in Greenwich Village during the period when people were just beginning to become aware of AIDS – the end of an era of sexual freedom.
Stanton’s portraits capture the people he knew in the gay community – writers, artists, professionals, and health care workers – and others with whom they came into contact. The young men he portrayed he found among those who lived in the Village or journeyed there to hang out or cruise.
This small world Stanton turned into art of high quality. The surfaces of his canvases are surprisingly beautiful even apart from the images themselves. They are bright and lively, and the colors are often a breathtaking surprise. The artist’s brush is evident, imparting a painterly quality that adds to their power. The portraits are subtle and telling observations of character and personality.
Stanton’s drawing of Craig Emerson, for example, is an affectionate tribute to an older mentor who helped Stanton through a difficult period – his battle with alcoholism. In Emerson’s face Stanton suggests the kindness, warmth, and compassion he found. The drawing of John Conway, a nurse at a New York hospital, also conveys much of the same humanity Stanton saw in Emerson, while his portrait of Charles Ludlum portrays the founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in a serious mood, weighed down with his responsibilities. In Omar there is a feeling of tension, almost a challenge, ,on the part of the boy as he confronts the artist and the viewer. Finally we see the artist himself: one self portrait shows Stanton in his apron, standing in front of his easel, gazing out of the picture, relaxed and confident.
The works printed here derive from the period 1981 – 1983, just before Stanton’s death. An article in Vanity Fair lamented the AIDS had effectively wiped out a generation – including Stanton – from the arts. We are fortunate that Larry Stanton was given even a little time to leave such and beautiful and pertinent legacy for us.