Larry Stanton was a portraitist. Skill in portraiture is an instinct, it cannot be taught (the only “method” it can have is a dreary measurement, but even that without instinct is not very interesting.)
The portraitist is an observer of people, his attitudes and feelings will be reflected in his observations and usually the interest in personality makes one study faces, other aspects of personality show in the body; posture, ways of moving, etc., but most is revealed in the face. People make their own faces and Larry knew this instinctively.
Larry was always drawing people. Place didn’t seem to matter to Larry and so most of the time he stayed put, following Rembrandt’s advice to his students: “Do not travel . . not even to Italy.”
So Larry stayed in New York. I met him in California in 1968, yet always regarded him as a New Yorker; he rarely left Manhattan, indeed his area of Manhattan was quite small, but measured by Larry, it was very large. As his paintings developed, so did his desire to stay in one place as he found it provided all he needed for his art.
Whenever I visited New York I usually saw Larry, enticing him out of his ten square blocks to go to the opera or a museum. I would visit his studio. Always there were portraits. Some of his subjects I knew, most of them I didn’t, but one can always feel if a ‘likeness’ is there. One feels it and as Larry’s work moved out of ‘generalized’ faces to more subtle descriptions of character and personality, I knew he was growing as an artist.
He didn’t exhibit much. Like most portraitists he was shy about showing his work, the worry about ‘likeness’, (perhaps a wrong notion) always seems to intervene. A kind of naïve notion that the portrait IS them seems to take place.
Larry struggled with this and slowly his struggle was beginning to bear fruit, a fact which is visible in the selection of his drawings and paintings reproduced here.
- David Hockney