Beauty, Sex and Gay Love: The Drawings of Larry Stanton

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Larry Stanton: Think of Me When It Thunders
RaymondDrawings by Larry Stanton

A new book of the American artist’s work depicts “a family of beautiful gay men living together and sharing their love for beauty, for art, and for sex,” says the executor of Stanton’s estate, Arthur Lambert

Larry Stanton was a portrait artist, drawing and painting close friends, relatives, and hook-ups he’d pick up in Manhattan gay bars. His work caught the attention of the art world, featuring in various group shows and showing at PS1 (now part of MoMa) – one of the most important spaces in America to showcase new talent. “People make their own faces,” wrote David Hockney, “and Larry knew this instinctively.” But in 1984, Larry Stanton tragically died, aged 37, of Aids. 

“He tried to think of something which would cause me to remember him,” recalls Arthur Lambert, Stanton’s lover and mentor, now 86 years old and the executor of Stanton’s estate: “‘I know,’ he said. ‘Think of me when it thunders.’” Now, in keeping with his wish, cult interiors magazine Apartamento has published a new book of Stanton’s work named after this quote: Think of Me When It Thunders. A selection of portraits, still lives, line drawings, and photographs made between 1977 to 1984, it’s the first book on Stanton in 36 years.

“This is not a conventional art book,” says Fabio Cherstich, a theatre director, set designer, and the book’s co-editor along with Lambert. “It’s a very private diary, a memoir. Arthur is the narrator. Until the last two years, there had been no retrospective at all, no solo show. The first was at Apalazzo Gallery in Brescia, Italy, in 2020. Then at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in Chelsea, New York. The next show will be in London in July. The idea of having another publication, after all this time, was to give another point of view, not just on the work, but also on his life, his environment of friends.”

Stanton‘s friends include Hockney, who became his “close friend” and main inspiration after the pair met in 1968. There’s Henry Geldzahler, the Met’s curator of contemporary art, described as “the most powerful and controversial curator alive.” And then there’s the parties – thrown for Iris Murdoch, WH Auden, Liberace – which involved dancing in large open rooms overlooking LA. By 1983, Stanton’s circle expanded to include Robert Mapplethorpe, Christopher Isherwood, William Burroughs and Royal Ballet dancers. They became his inspiration: a stream of gay artists and writers making art about being gay. 

Stanton studied Picasso, Hockney and Matisse, but his hard work is hidden. His creations are informal, instinctive, light and serene. Stanton also had an innate gift for colour: his masterpieces are the drawings, which are mixtures of Swiss crayon, pencil, and pastel. They rival Matisse, in the orange of a chin, the blue of an eyelid, the yellow of an ear. Like paper masks, they are, perhaps, how a child sees; genius, wrote Baudelaire, is “childhood recovered at will”.

“I hope that when you read this book, you enter inside something that is private, but also full of joy,” says Cherstich. “What I love about Arthur is there isn’t any melancholy. In the history of art, there is a lack of an entire generation of artists. And they had a very specific idea of family. It’s a family of beautiful gay men living together and sharing their love for beauty, for art, and for sex. The idea of publishing this book is to make this work last forever. We have a responsibility, as a next generation, of making this memory survive.”

Larry Stanton: Think of Me When It Thunders will be available soon on Apartamento’s online shop