Union City resident Gary Erbe is probably one of the most organized and punctual men you could ever meet. On first glance it's hard to believe that Erbe has sold paintings and collages to private collectors and organizations around the nation and abroad.
Erbe, a self-taught artist and president of Allied Artists of America, is known for his work in Trompe l'oeil painting, a type of still-life painting.
Erbe recently allowed local residents to bring posters of one of his paintings home. Erbe donated a number of posters of his work, "A composition in Red, White and Blue," which he did in 1976 for the nation's bicentennial, to be given to anyone who donated the North Hudson Emergency Services Charity Fund to help the families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack.
Erbe also donated these posters to museums across the nation. The proceeds from this painting will go toward the police and fire departments in those towns.
Breaking the rules
Rules may not always be meant to be broken, but Erbe has found ways to get around the rules in his painting.
"I bend the rules to create my own type of painting," said Erbe in his Union City studio. "When you are a young artist you are searching for your identity. I didn't want to be a follower. I wanted to do something of my own."
Erbe, who has shown and sold his works all over the country and abroad, is known for his groundbreaking techniques in Trompe L'oiel.
"You have to be creative in art," said Erbe standing in front of one of the collages he is now working on.
Trompe l'oeil is a form of still-life painting where the artist must create the illusion of texture and depth.
One of the rules in this type of painting is that only inanimate objects can be painted; no people are allowed to appear in your painting.
However, Erbe got around that rule by working with silhouettes, negatives and mannequins.
In "Saturday Matinee," a painting where Erbe recreates a movie theater, Erbe uses cardboard to create people in his collage. In the painting "Soap Opera," Erbe uses two mannequins.
Although there are less traces of levitation in his work today, Erbe also coined the technique of levitational realism into his Trompe l'oeil painting. This is where Erbe arranges objects to look as if they are floating.
"I have freed objects from their natural surroundings," said Erbe. "I use objects that do not relate but when juxtaposed together create an idea."
Erbe said that he first creates a collage of an idea, and then he draws that collage before painting it.
"The important thing is creating an idea and bringing it across in the painting successfully," said Erbe.
You have to love it
Erbe started as an engraver in Union City, teaching himself how to paint on nights and weekends.
"Every painting was an art lesson for me," said Erbe. "And I am still learning."
After five years of engraving, Erbe quit the profession to become a full time artist.
"It was a gutsy move," admits Erbe, adding that he doesn't think anyone could do it today because the cost of living is so much higher.
"I had not a quarter to my name," said Erbe, whose first solo exhibit was in the Pace Gallery in Houston in 1970. "But it worked out. One profession that is the most insecure is art. You never know where your next dollar is coming from."
"I've been very blessed," said Erbe. "I feel that I retired at the age of 25. Not many people can say that they wake up in the morning and do what they love."