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By Gabriela Dellosso

“Fool the Eye” is how the genre of Trompe l’oeil is defined. A well known example being “Which is Which”(collection of the Brandywine River Museum of Art), by artist Jefferson David Chalfont (1856-1931) depicting a realistically painted postage stamp, placed right next to an actual postage stamp (in this particular work of art the viewer is asked to identify to the real stamp and which was painted). As Trompe l’oeil developed compositions emerged from artists like William Michael Harnett (1848-1892) and John F. Peto (1854-1907). They had great skill to accomplish successful Trompe l’oeil paintings and they painted unconventional subjects, that historical still life paintings never included. They painted everyday things, like paper currency, worn old books or a rusty old horseshoe that is nailed on a wall (like Harnett’s The Golden Horseshoe, 1886).

The Big Splash copy

When I first saw the paintings of Gary Erbe, I saw a tremendous amount of creativity and originality that distinguished his work from his predecessors. He combines ideas and themes and plays realism against modern, flat elements, resulting in unique visuals. His work bridges classic and modern principles seamlessly. Gary has had an incredibly long and successful career as a painter. His body of work spans five decades. The level of quality is incredibly consistent over a 50 year time period.

Mastery is something all artists dream of achieving. It requires the artist’s complete and focused dedication in creating the work. A master has a singular vision that is like a fingerprint, a unique identity that will separate him/her from the crowd. The body of work they leave behind is influential to future generations. It has been very inspiring for me, to observe all of the above, in Gary’s work. I consider him a great mentor and friend and an example of virtuosity. It is remarkable to note that he is self-taught. I first met Gary over 20 years ago, when he was President of Allied Artist of America . He was a very dedicated president for Allied ,resulting in his being awarded President Emeritus. What I learned from my friend and mentor through many conversations is staying true to yourself and your vision. Gary’s world revolves around his art. He has flawless work habits. He paints everyday, starting his work day at 6am and ending at 4pm. He has a wonderful partner in his wife Zeny. She is incredibly supportive and helps Gary with many tasks that would otherwise take up his valuable painting time. That 100% dedication to his craft , is what gives his work its depth, both in vision and technique. I am reminded of something I read once about another American Master, Norman Rockwell. Rockwell used to put a sign on his easel 100%–he gave no less and that is what I see in Gary and his work.

Jazz copy

A wonderful example and one of my favorite paintings of his is “Virtuoso”. The subject of the violin was a favorite of William Harnett and John Peto. Both Harnett and Peto’s paintings show a violin painted in a classical manner. Gary is inventive with his depiction of the violin and creates something very original.

Here we see a combination of imagination and skill. We are introduced to a violin in a completely new way. The violin is recognizable, but it is composed of a series of colors, shapes, combined with classically painted elements like the realistic bow. The color combinations invite the viewer to explore the shapes as they enhance the idea of the violin and the music it creates. The horizontal and vertical lines echo throughout the painting, but always lead back to the central element of the violin, like a melody, where there are repeated rhythms and harmonies to form a song.

Composition in Red White and Blue copyComposition in Red White and Blue, 1975, Oil on Canvas, 72 x112 in, Private Collection

“In Composition in Red White and Blue” you find your self immersed in the vertical and horizontal elements of the flags. The subtleties invite the viewer to examine the subject of this picture, the differences of the types of flags, the details of wrinkles in the fabric of the flags, the variety of the textures and transparencies in the flags add to the intrigue of the painting.

Here are more examples of Gary’s work:

Take Five copyTake Five, 1981-82, Oil on Canvas, 64×54 in Collection of Max N. Berry and Pamela Thomas

The Big Splash copyThe Big Splash, 2001, Oil on Canvas, 40×50 in, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Cusenza

The 50'sThe 50’s, 1991, Oil on Canvas, 64 x84 in, Collection of Ira Kent

Gary is currently embarking on a 50 year retrospective tour where you can see his work in person.

The retrospective exhibition opens at:

The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, OH
Butler Museum Exhibition Dates: May 14 -August 6, 2017.Then it travels to the Brinton Museum, Big Horn, WY
Brinton Museum Exhibition Dates: September 16 – November 30, 2017
Then it travels to the Reading Public Museum, Reading, PA
Reading Museum Dates: June 5 – September 9, 2018
The next venue is the John F. Peto Studio Museum, Island Heights, NJ

Subway SeriesSubway Series, 2008, Oil on Canvas, 55 x 45 in, The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY

Peto Museum Dates: September 22- December 16, 2018

The Butler Institute of American Art is also celebrating this landmark in his successful career as an artist by publishing a 300 page book . The large format scholarly written volume is hard cover with over 250 illustrations. This is the most comprehensive book written about Gary and his groundbreaking work. The 11 chapters are written by art historians and scholars, providing insight to the artist’s life and over 50 years of creating an impressive body of work. Here is an outline of the chapters. Contributing writers are Dr. Thomas Folk, Dr. Carol Lowrey, Dr. Christine I. Oaklander, Carter Ratcliff, Dr. Michael Schantz and Dr. Louis A. Zona.

It is a rare opportunity to gain an insight to Gary’s work.

Chapters include his 1. bio, 2. his early years, 3. The American Flag, 4. Modern Principles, 5. Pop Culture, 6. Sports, 7. Social Commentaries, 8. Sculpture, 9. Constructions, 10. Technical Aspects and 11. A detailed chronology.

Gary personally devotes one chapter, on the technical aspects associated with painting, including how to prepare canvas like the old masters, the special formula for the oil medium he uses, the proper varnish to use and the palette.

Chapter 9 discusses his constructions. Gary’s technical process involves fabricating a construction with various mediums. The purpose of the construction is to develop the idea, composition, color and subject matter. Then he actually paints from observation, from the original construction which serves as his model. Here is a picture of his latest construction for his painting “Jazz”.

Erbe book cover copyA signed copy of Gary Erbe’s collectable book” Footprints” is available on
Here is the link:
Or you can call the artist directly for a signed copy at 973-562-0067 .

Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.  Her first one- woman exhibition took place in 2006 at the Butler Institute of American Art, followed by a solo at The Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in 2008. Her work is in the permanent collections of The Butler Institute of American Art, OH; The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY; and many other important museums in the country.

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