“Take Down Portraits: Drawings and Portraits by Larry Stanton” by Winthrop Smith and Larry Stanton; Chiron Review Press, St. John, Kansas, 2021; 168 pages, large format paperback, $22.

“Take Down Portraits: Drawings and Portraits by Larry Stanton” reproduces paintings and drawings by Manhattan artist Stanton together with poems by Winthrop Smith, of Augusta, imagining conversations and scenes that might have taken place in the artist’s studio.

Stanton, it turns out, died of AIDS in 1984, as the havoc wreaked by that epidemic ramped up in gay communities. We learn from Smith that while he lived in Manhattan at the time, he never actually met Stanton. But inspired by Stanton’s art — dozens of pieces of which Smith has in his care, and others of which coincidentally were shown this spring at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in Manhattan — Smith put together his book.

The 40 or so color portraits reproduced in the book are intriguing, some of them haunting, some curious, all skillfully, thoughtfully made. The faces of the subjects, most of whom are named, are varied and expressive, and maybe taken together they evoke the personality of a certain moment in cultural history.

Accompanying the pictures are lengthy poems by Smith, who describes himself as “gay, minimalist, poet.” He calls the poems “‘duets,’ or conversations which I imagined taking place in (Stanton’s) studio while he was working with each of his sitters.” The “duets” are composed mainly in highly fragmentary phrasing, seemingly intended more to evoke the mood or emotion of the moment with fleeting details than to provide actual spoken dialogue.

One of the more haunting openings, and typical of how the poems’ phrasing works, accompanies a 1983 portrait of the Beat writer William S. Burroughs:

 

Fearful of nightmares,

Hallucinating

Little men

Playing house,

–Terror of nightmares

–Melancholic tones

–Textured by

–Fear, guilt, rage

‘Ghostly grey figures,

Apparition of

Green reindeer

In the woods’

Some very raw imagery follows this passage, an aspect that crops up in a number of the poems.

An apparent glitch in the preparation of the book left all the lines of poetry centered, an internet convention somewhat disorienting to the eye in an ink and paper book intending to present “voices,” as the introduction guides readers to expect. The images of Stanton’s paintings might have benefited from larger play on most pages, but overall this book seems like an accurate evocation of the time period it depicts, and an interesting contribution for the artistic wing of the LGBTQ community.

Winthrop Smith’s “Takedown Portraits” blog is at: blogspot: takedownportraits.blogspot.com. Among his other books are “Wrestling Starting Position,” “Skin Check: New York Poems” and “The Weigh-In: Collected Poems.” More of Larry Stanton’s art may be seen at the Daniel Cooney Fine Art website.  “Take Down Portraits” is available through local and online book sellers and lulu.com.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

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