Martha Erlebacher, American (1937 - 2013)

Martha Erlebacher

Martha Mayer Erlebacher was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1937. Trained originally in Abstract Expressionism, Erlebacher (along with her husband Walter) broke from this school in the late 60’s and quickly became recognized as one of the leading representational figurative and still-life artists in America. She regularly shows her work nationally and internationally and her work has been featured in many books and periodicals. Erlebacher’s work examines the deep metaphorical and social themes of contemporary culture through her painterly and aesthetic images. She currently works and lives in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

A documentary (currently in production) on Martha Mayer Erlebacher’s still life painting technique will be available for purchase next year. In this film, Martha executes a still life painting from start to finish for the camera while explaining, in detail, her methods and procedures. This high definition tour de force documentary is a "fly on the wall" view that all other painters will love watching. It is the equivalent of a full semester course on still life painting.

Ultra-realistic still-life and figure painter Martha Mayer Erlebacher was born in 1937 and became Chair of the Faculty at the New York Academy of Art in Manhattan. Since the 1970s, she has painted fruit, eggs, pots, vases and a variety of other objects in a realistic style and also paints Renaissance-like figures, primarily portraits and the female nude. Her oil paintings feature warm colors and her drawings subtle changes of value.

She often places her figures in ornamental, Renaissance-like interiors of checkered marble floors and walls, as in "Woman with Chaos, Time and Death." This painting offers traditional symbolic images and arrangement of figures recalling the "sacred conversation"a partially clad woman with the symbolic figures responsible for her dissolution, Chaos, Time and Death.

In 1998, Martha Mayer Erlebacher explored her feelings and purposes in her art:
"With feelings of preposterousness, humility and self-consciousness, I'm putting some of my more recent thoughts about the making and function of art on paper. I try to make art, which reaffirms to the viewer that there is value in human life. It should give the sense that one is not alone, and that one is part of a group with similar needs, longings, hopes, dreams, fears and desires which transcend time (the subjects of art). I try to represent to the viewer situations, which can shed light on his (her) own life. It should do this with representations of the human form and the environment that are compellingly rendered as three-dimensional entities in which forms can move in space convincingly (the means of representation). It should speak about human life metaphorically rather than literally (the metaphor). It should do all of the above in an organizational context, which reaffirms the continuity of existence from generation to generation the means of organization a tall order.

First, the subjects of my work.
"Like myth, I feel, that the supreme function of art is to restate and re-present the paradigmatic models for significant human activities. These can include revelations of the sacred, death, sexuality, birth, myths of origins, etc., and all human activities including eating, work, education, recreation, etc. These activities will occur in a mythic time, which is cyclical rather than linear because it assumes the universality and repetition of human experience. The use of ritual nudity also implies an a-temporal model. By thinking of these activities as paradigmatic, the first step is taken to create representations, which transcend illustration and genre.

Second, the means of representation.
"My interest is in a structurally viable representation of the human form, anatomically based, convincingly three-dimensional which is the kind which I feel most powerfully elicits psychological responses on the part of the viewer. This activity in the past has been called drawing. It is the process by which the artist sees something, translates what he sees into a perception and then recreates the image within the formal modalities of his own perception. It is called the 'form sense' of the artist. By simply doing this very activity, he automatically 'recreates' the world. It is the world rendered with that particular artist's form sense. Unique interpretations of the world are, in my view, the starting point for art. If indeed an artist only renders the visual world and imposes on it a unique sensibility, which can be enough. It is deeply reassuring to the reality of one's own existence to see a parallel world. The modes of illumination used to render the figure aside from structural accuracy (which range from the extreme of a silhouette based image to an open form integrated in the background) are determined by the meaning and context of the painting. What the figure groups with, is critical to the meaning, whether it be the sky, the ground, other figures, etc. To what degree does it segregate or integrate with the environment?

Third, the metaphor.
"I claim that without metaphor there can be no inner world, no life of thought, no art. In the words of Hannah Arendt, 'Thought.... stands in need of metaphors in order to bridge the gap between a world given to sense experience and a realm where no such immediate apprehension of evidence can ever exist'. The 'arc of metaphor' spans the abyss separating the outer world of sense from the inner world of thought, appearance from reality. Without metaphor there would have been no bridge whereby to cross from the minor truth of the seen to the major truth of the unseen. Metaphor captures one reality within another to give insight and greater understanding. The images can include metaphors of landscape (The River, Adam II, Rage, Rage,The End and the Beginning, The Creation of Eve, Agon, Woman Planting after Rain), or metaphors of form (Woman Gazing Up, Woman In Chair, Sisters) or both. I strive to design the 'look', or organization, of the picture so that the visual appearance of the picture points to the metaphoric meaning as well as the literal subject.

Fourth, the means of organization.
"By this I mean the organizational devices we use to construct the picture. Rooted in and derived from the physiognomy of the body are certain fundamentals of organization related to symmetry/asymmetry, vertical/horizontal/diagonal. Rooted in and derived from the human experience of everyday life are other fundamentals of organization based on gravity and weight, the diurnal alteration of light and dark, above and below, sky/earth/water, male/female, sun/moon, rivers, mountains/valleys, deserts, stones, grass, wind, etc. I also use geometrical analyses for placement of the components of the picture.

Using these tools in conjunction with my knowledge of perceptual organization, I try to create images that reaffirm the value and nobility of human life in the natural world.

'Art, even the art of fullest scope and widest vision, can never really show us the external world. All that it shows us is our own soul, the one world of which we have any real cognizance ... It is Art, and Art only, that reveals us to ourselves.' Oscar Wilde."

Les Krantz, American Artists, Illustrated Survey of Leading Contemporary Artists
More Gallery website, 2003
American Artist, December, 1996

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