The following text was originally published in the book Larry Stanton: Think of Me When It Thunders, out now! Click here to get your copy.
I discovered the work of Larry Stanton by chance, while searching online for information about an artist I love and have collected for years, Patrick Angus. That was in January 2018. Larry Stanton did not know Patrick Angus, because Larry died of AIDS in 1984, when he was just 37 years old. That same year Patrick moved definitively to New York, where he would go on to make his famous strip show paintings until around 1992, when the accursed virus would end his life as well, at the age of 39. Impressed by the beauty of the few images that can be found online of Larry Stanton’s work, I pursued my inquiries until I came into contact with Arthur Lambert, the most important person I could ever have hoped to come across. Arthur was a partner, mentor, adoptive father, and close friend to Larry, and is now the only representative of his estate. I immediately wrote him an email and he responded: ‘I’m here waiting for you’.
As soon as I could I flew to New York; upon opening the door of his handsome building in the heart of Greenwich Village, I found a splendid gentleman of 80 wearing blue jeans, a striped T-shirt, and tennis shoes. Arthur lives surrounded by Larry’s drawings and paintings and has many stories to tell about a New York that no longer exists—he considers himself a survivor of it—as well as his friendship with David Hockney, which began in 1968. Over all these years, Arthur has zealously kept drawings, paintings, photographs, and Super 8 films made on Fire Island, as well as diaries and sketchbooks. We still speak at length, going through the works and commenting on each. Every time I discover new details about their life together, their conversations with Christopher Isherwood, their friendship with Ellsworth Kelly, the times they travelled to museums and openings with David Hockney and Henry Geldzahler, the subjects of some of Hockney’s most emblematic paintings, and about Stanton himself.
But who was Larry Stanton really? He was a handsome young man who was obsessed with the men he met during lost nights in the streets and bars of Manhattan; he drew their faces in a sketchbook, which he always had with him, and later he made their portraits in his Greenwich Village studio, a small space full of canvases, photographs, artbooks, and stuffed animals that his cat had torn apart. Larry was a chronic alcoholic and a magnificent portrait artist, who in just a few years was able to create a veritable archipelago of the faces he came across: portraits of friends and relatives, and lovers and companions on Fire Island or in Los Angeles—two of his favourite places.
‘People make their own faces and Larry knew this instinctively’. With these words, Hockney remembers him in the preface of the first book released on his work, edited by Arthur Lambert and published in 1986 by Twelvetrees Press. Almost 40 years after the first publication, I decided to re-open Larry’s archives and asked Arthur to be our narrator, to help us enter into the world he shared with Larry for so many years. I recorded his story as he sat in his New York living room, there amid the beautiful objects and so many memories. This book is a journey through time, a round-up of faces and stories, of beautiful drawings and paintings, of fragments and sketches. It’s the plot of a film that lets us know how difficult it is for those who leave us, but also for those who stay, and that memory is an excellent learning exercise for the soul.