Neil Grayson, press

June 1998

From Art in America

Neil Grayson at Dactyl Foundation –

In a group of new oil portraits and figure studies, 29-year-old Neil Grayson looks to the past, especially Rembrandt and Goya, for inspiration. Grayson is fixated on the contemporary individual going about his or her solipsistic, contemplative business. His figures, lost to the world, have the air of secular, 21st century saints.

Obscurities abound. In Ghost of a Man Thinking, a scumbly figure seated at a table emerges from the Rembrandtesque ground even as he retreats into it. His pose is ominously meditative, arms on the table, head in had; he is a Hamlet for our unthinking times. Brooding Figure features the same chiaroscuro around a man who rests his head directly on the table; a small paint can and brush are placed before him, on top of a barely discernible American flag. If this last tends to read as social commentary, well, it is and it isn’t; Grayson painted this canvas as a reaction to current events, but the flag also functions purely as a still-life element. While there are still traces of social commentary in Melancholia, the work is more poetic in effect, as the artist lovingly and bravely inspects an emaciated female figure for visible signs of life.

In his earlier work, Grayson presented the viewer with more overtly symbolic fables–a young girl gesticulating with a grotesquely elongated arm at a funeral pyre, a boy trying to keep his father from deploying a syringe raised above his track-ravaged arm. Today, Grayson is more interested in effecting a synthesis between the figurative and the abstract, to which end he is playing down inflammatory narrative and toning up his painterly technique.

But the real sea change in his new work is manifested in two completely different yet related paintings. The twice-life-sized Final Figure is a subtly frenzied rendering of an ambiguous, off-putting form that has deep iconological import for Grayson. A yellowy white, pod-like “thing” hangs in midair in the darkly luminous canvas, its “head” tilted to the left, its “body” ending in a spiraling tail. The form is reminiscent of the “Hanged Man” Tarot card as well as death-by-lynching. The artist commits himself to no single reading. In the mid-sized Light Triptych, a dim yellow glow shines through deep brown mist at the center of each panel-the fabled light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps, or the dawning of a new millennium? Grayson is a late-century illuminator of the confusions that surround not only our art but our lives.

–Gerrit Henry