Gary Erbe


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Self-taught painter Gary Erbe was born in Union City, New Jersey in 1944. Unable to attend art school, he worked as an engraver from 1965-1970 to support himself and his family, painting at nights and on weekends to develop his skills. In 1967, Erbe discovered trompe l’oeil painting and the nineteenth century artists who deployed this genre to uniquely American ends.  Inspired by their focus on popular culture, modernity and questions of illusions, Erbe continues to work within – and reinvent- the trompe l’oeil tradition today. 

“Erbe’s remarkably engaging paintings, constructions and sculptures simultaneously pay homage to historical masters of the genre of trompe l’oeil still life, and reflect his own moment in history, drawing on complex themes that resonate in the modern world.  The artist enlists comic books, Hollywood films and television, sports, advertising, the Wild West, politics, Americana and other aspects of popular culture as subjects in his works…

“Always an innovator, Erbe even established a new category of highly naturalistic painting in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s which he dubbed “Levitational Realism,” where objects in his paintings seem to magically float in space. His unique studio practice involves the assemblage of what he calls “constructions” or gatherings of the real objects or “props” that he depicts as actual size in his finished compositions…

“As visually stunning, meticulously observed, and carefully constructed as Erbe’s painted compositions are, their significance is enhanced by the subtext of memory and nostalgia, which are fundamental to understanding their meaning.  Embedded in each of these works is the vision of the artist, for whom each composition- and in many instances- each object – is loaded with personal meaning.  Not all of these meanings are revealed to the viewer, but what is conveyed is the complexity of thought, attention to detail, and unparalleled technical ability that have distinguished Erbe as one of the most engaging artists of our time.”

-- Scott Schweigert, Curator of Art, Reading Public Museum, Gary Erbe: 50 Year Retrospective, 2018

Erbe has exhibited extensively since 1970 with solo exhibitions at Museums and galleries throughout America, Asia and Europe and his artwork is in the permanent collection of many institutions.  Erbe has also garnered many awards and honors over the years including an unprecedented 6 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, OH and the Salmagundi Club Medal of Honor, NYC. He also received the Gold Medal from The National Museum of Sports, IN; First Prize Award from The National Arts Club, NYC and Gold Medal of Honor from Audubon Artists, NYC, First Prize from The Peto Museum, NJ amongst others.

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, OH has published a scholarly written 300-page book on Erbe’s art and life titled Footprints: The Art and Life of Gary Erbe in conjunction with the 50-year retrospective exhibition which began in 2017 and traveled to several institutions for two years.