Gray Foy (1923-2012) was one of the most extraordinary, but least-known, American artists of the 20th century. Born in Dallas TX, he studied at Los Angeles City College Southern Methodist University, and Columbia University. He was active as an artist from the 1940s to the 1960s but put aside art-making in order to devote himself to the art de vivre in the home and relationship he shared with author and editor Leo Lerman.
Foy’s first exhibition, in 1948 at the Durlacher gallery, warranted a brief mention in the New York Times but his work in a group show at Durlacher caused Stuart Preston, in the Times, to suggest that the content of the artist’s “minutely handled drawings can best be sifted by the surrealist or the psychoanalyst.” In 1951 Preston, viewing Foy’s one-person show at Durlacher, noted that, despite the rise of abstraction, the visual world was still worth looking at:
in Gray Foy’s case worth observing with fanatical intensity. Foy’s pencil and brush spin out a tissue of delicacy and transparency, light enough to seem to have settled on the paper like frost, strong enough to have netted in its gossamer texture enough visual data about plant forms to astound a botanist. But the pursuit of accuracy is not his only concern nor does it dispel the poetry in his work. It has a hothouse flavor and, springing from the airy artificiality of design, a rococo quality. It is perhaps no coincidence that in one pulsating oil he has been inspired by Ariosto, whose poetry was equally irresistible to Fragonard.
Preston, writing in the New York Times, reviewed Foy’s 1957 exhibition at Durlacher, describing the artist as “second to none in sheer manual wizardry. The part played by technique in a work of art varies in importance and were Foy’s extraordinary delicacy unaccompanied by a poetic sensitivity to flowers and growing things, these drawings might be no more than astonishing tours de force. Such is not the case. They both amaze and please.”
That same year Foy was chosen for Art in America’s “New Talent” issue in which he was quoted at length on his work:
It has been my aim to present any chosen subject or mood as lucidly and evocatively as possible. My working materials are quite limited--generally a hard pencil and untoned white paper. I lay no claim to any philosophy to explain, heighten or ramify my work. Nor do I work in a fervid emotional state but rather clinically, as a surgeon might, with sharp instruments. Very seldom do I use a model or actual object as I draw or paint, relying instead on memory to evoke or re-create. I never sketch but begin drawing from the outset, generally from a focus which develops outwards.
Renewed interest has been generated in Gray Foy's art as a result of a 2004 article in the New York Times by Steve Martin about the artist and his 1942 masterpiece Dimensions, which Martin acquired and donated to the Museum of Modern Art.