Gary Erbe


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Gary T. Erbe, a self-taught painter, was born in 1944 in Union City, New Jersey, where he maintained his studio from 1972 until 2006.

Unable to attend art school, he worked as an engraver from 1965-1970 to support himself and his family, painting at nights and weekends to develop his skills. In 1967, Erbe discovered trompe l’oeil painting and its masters. It was then that he recognized his particular place. In 1969, Erbe conceived a way of creating paintings that would be more contemporary and that would depart from from the 19th century trompe l’oeil tradition. By freeing objects from their natural surroundings via the illusion of levitation and through the juxtaposition of objects that in reality had no relationship, he could create thought provoking paintings. In the same year, Erbe coined the term “Levitational Realism.” In 1970, Erbe decided to pursue his art full time and actively began to exhibit his work.

Erbe has exhibited extensively since 1970 with solo exhibitions at museums and galleries throughout America, Asia, and Europe and is in the permanent collection of many institutions including The Phillips Collection;  Philadelphia Museum of Art; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Terra Foundation for American Art; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Colby College Museum of Art; Brandywine River Museum; The Brinton Museum; Montclair Art Museum; The Heckscher Museum of Art; Phoenix Art Museum; The Butler Institute of American Art; and the Reading Public Museum, among others.  Erbe has also garnered many awards and honors over the years including an unprecedented six Gold Medals at The Allied Artists of America, Inc. Annual Exhibitions held at The National Arts Club, NYC. He also received the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Art from The Butler Institute of American Art and the Salmagundi Club Medal of Honor. He further received the Gold Medal from The National Museum of Sports; First Prize Award from The National Arts Club, Gold Medal of Honor from Audubon Artists, and First Prize from The Peto Museum, among others.

Erbe’s work combines flat space forms that are exaggerated and enhanced by shadow, light and color. The result is pure three-dimensional illusion. While there are, and will always be, elements of trompe l’oeil in his work, he has less of an interest in fooling the eye than in stimulating the mind.

Erbe was honored with a 25-year traveling retrospective in 1995 and a 40-year traveling retrospective in 2010. The Butler Institute of American Art has published a scholarly book on Erbe’s art and life titled Footprints: The Art and Life of Gary Erbe in conjunction with a planned 50-year retrospective exhibition in 2017, which will travel. Currently, Erbe maintains his studio in Nutley, New Jersey. He continues actively to paint.