Notes from the Road: Artist Gray Foy’s Work Finds New Life

Why does a masterpiece or great artist live in obscurity?

Originally called Summary, Dimensions by Gray Foy was sold in 2005 to Steve Martin, and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Untimely death, lack of resources, will or exposure might contribute to an artist’s anonymity. But these were not the case for Gray Foy.

I had never heard of Gray Foy until I had the good fortune to interview Steve Martin, the art-collector, banjo-player, actor and comedian, about his just-published book, An Object of Beauty. In my research, I came across a 2006 article in which he recounted purchasing the drawing Dimensions, from the artist.

Foy was the partner of Leo Lerman, the Condé Nast writer and editor; they often entertained in their antiques and art-filled apartment. Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Maria Callas and Marlene Dietrich were frequent guests. On his first visit in the 1980s, Martin was being shown around the apartment when he saw a meticulously rendered, masterfully executed drawing hanging in a back hallway. He asked Foy who had done it and was astonished when Foy replied, “I did.” The realization that such an obvious talent was unrecognized was equally startling, prompting Martin to ask why he was no longer working. The answer was simple; he had to quit to care for Leo.

Foy had moved to New York to study art. He had well-received exhibitions and won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1961. His painstaking technique meant that it could take a year or more to complete a drawing but the results resembled that of no other artist.

Gray Foy died on November 23, 2012 at the age of 90. His obituary listed Dimensions, a carefully arranged tangle of figures, animals, abstract shapes and mysterious objects, as a recent acquisition of the Museum of Modern Art. Now, thanks to the generosity and astute eye of Steve Martin, Gray Foy and his masterwork have emerged from the shadows.

For more information about the lives of Leo Lerman and Gray Foy, see The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, edited by Stephen Pascal.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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