Boca News Boca Raton, FL
article by Skip Sheffield

New York artist Neil Grayson is not yet 30 years old, but he already has started his own art foundation and has found his patron “Medicis” in the form of Boca Raton art lovers Janice and Stanley Sussman, and their son David.

The Sussmans recently hosted a showing and discussion of Grayson’s work in their fabulous 8,000-square-foot Boca West penthouse apart-ment. The event was attended by more than 150 members of the United Jewish Appeal.

Grayson was last in Boca Raton in 1995, but the spotlight was then on his wife, Victoria Alexander, a Ph.D. candidate who was giving a reading and book- signing of her debut novel, “Smoking Hopes,” at Liberties in Mizner Park as part of a national tour.

“It was terrific,” says Grayson of his Boca Raton show. “It was all done so professionally, and the turnout was phenomenal. Any New York gallery would have been lucky to get that kind of turnout. It’s rare to see that kind of loyalty in today’s art world.”

Grayson, 29, is blazing new trails at his DACTYL Foundation for the Arts & Humanities in New York’s Greenwich Village. Janice Sussman never doubted he would progress this far.

“Neil’s work springs from a passion,” she says. “There is a power there, though it may not evoke feelings of happiness. It is more about questioning, struggling and the power of art.”

Grayson says he first picked up a pencil at age five at his home in Westport, Conn. By age 13, he had become quite serious about his art.

“You know how some kids love rock ‘n’ roll or cap guns,” he says, “for me it was pencil and paper.”

Lauren Sussman has known Grayson since they were both teenagers. She remembers recognizing his talent even then. “He was very serious,” said Lauren at the Boca Raton reception, “It bordered on scary in his early work.”

At age 18, Grayson was invited to paint at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “They allowed me to reproduce a Rembrandt 1660 self-portrait,” recalls Grayson. “The curator who invited me said it was the best likeness he had seen in 20 years at the museum.”

Although he was accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design, Grayson elected to apprentice to an Italian portrait painter in Vermont instead. At age 19, he had his first show, which is when David Sussman met him.

“I saw Neil’s painting of The Flag, and I said, ‘One day I’ll have that on my wall,’ recounts Sussman. “For my wedding in 1990, I wanted only one gift, and that was it. The painting was so large I didn’t even have a place to hang it. People thought I was insane.”

So began Sussman’s collection of Neil Grayson’s work. His parents, Janice and Stanley, have become equally ardent supporters, and have done everything in their power to advance Grayson’s career.

“None of us has received even one dollar for this,” says David Sussman. “It’s not about money or exploitation, it’s about the heart. I think Neil is one of the most significant artists of our time.”

Grayson’s work has come a long way since duplicating the portrait of Rembrandt. His earli-er brooding, troubled figures have given way to more graceful and optimistic figures of dancers and female figures, no doubt influenced by his beautiful wife, Victoria, whom he married in 1993, the same year Grayson’s father died.

“In some ways, my father’s death was a liberat-ing thing,” Grayson acknowledges. “He was a very unhappy, depressed, negative man who didn’t have an outlet like I have. For me, art is a place I can go to confront my polarity. In real life, it is difficult to express all your facets. Art is a way to live the different parts of myself without killing myself.”

The DACTYL Foundation was founded on a shoestring by Grayson and his wife in 1996 “in the early evening, as it were of the postmodern day,” in Grayson’s words, in a belief in “individual expression, the existence of chance and the necessity of choice.”

This year, the foundation plans to give a $3,000 award for Aesthetic and Literary Theory and $3,000 awards for Stageplay and Screenplay. Call (212) 219-2344 in New York for details. For more information on the local Sussman collection.