Larry Stanton Painting and Drawing, Twelvetrees Press, 1986
Larry was barely twenty when we met. I was a museum curator in my early thirties. While Larry had little grounding in art history at that time, he was already taking the burst of activity in contemporary art very seriously. We soon discovered a shared interest; as kids we had both admired the almost confectionery prettiness of the painting of curly-headed children by Sir Thomas Lawrence in the Metropolitan Museum: embarrassing, sentimental, but a fine painting. Larry’s full name was Thomas Lawrence Stanton, Jr. a name that surfaced each generation in a family thought to be descended from Sir Thomas.
There was colt-like eagerness about Larry that was at the same time endearing and somewhat daunting. His lack of formal training in art made him avid for information and for articulated distinctions with regard to quality. Flattered but exhausted, I was delighted to share my thoughts with him.
My memories of Larry are centered on the apartment his father let him have on Charles Street (it served as a drawing studio and as a place to live in the heart of Greenwich Village.) We spent wonderful times together on trips to California and to the Mediterranean, Naples, Milan, and Tunis. There was always enough intensity and good will in out friendship to keep us both amused and enthusiastic in our appraisals of people and art – two subjects we found unquenchably diverting.
During the month of September 1969 when I was installing a large exhibition of recent art at the Met, New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940 – 1970, Larry came to the Museum half a dozen times and thus met Ellsworth Kelly and Barnett Newman among others of the forty-three artists whose work was surveyed in the show. The artists welcomed Larry; he was personable, magically handsome, and clearly, deeply interested in the work. For me Larry was a loyal ally during the strainful and exhilarating preparations for a show that my father said, at the time, was being covered like the Vietnam War (with my role alternating wildly between View Cong and Green Beret, depending on the journalist.) Ellsworth Kelly and Larry remained in touch, Kelly following his work with increasing respect as Larry continued to progress.
In his younger days, Larry experienced rural life on his family’s farm near Delhi, in central New York, but once he hit Manhattan at age eighteen, there was no looking back. It was in the urban setting that he found his subject matter, the heads and torsos of young men, often large-featured and always seated in an attitude of repose that emanated an attractive energy.
In the seventies Larry made forays into abstraction, a field in which he never felt totally at ease; in retrospect we can see that it was his admiration for artists such as Hans Hofmann and Ellsworth Kelly that led him to emulate them; but something else was at work as well – a need to experience various ways of painting through his own actions and his own nerve endings – to determine ways in which other styles and conventions might be accommodated to his own vision, his personal territory. It is often through imitating sensibilities other than our own that we can win new territory for ourselves.
And it was exactly this that Larry Stanton was onto in the last years of his life. I n the eighties he had found a way of combining his subject matter with a new formal strength and psychological energy. The result, his monumental portraits of friends and artists, give strong testimony to his love of life and his skills as an artist.