Uncanny Realities Brilliantly Betray the Eye in Gary Erbe’s Exhibition

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Art Review by Leann Schneider

Gary T. Erbe, a master of optical illusion, showcases his skill in the Canton Museum of Art’s show “The Mystery and Magic: The Trompe l’Oeil Vision of Gary T. Erbe,” open through July 19, 2015. After first meandering through a variety of impressive still-lifes and one large Vitruvian Woman from the concurrent show “Allied Artists of America: 100 Years,” Erbe’s works suddenly throw the viewer into uncertainty. A disembodied torso of a mannequin floats atop a wooden pedestal; meanwhile, across the gallery, three Picasso-esque musicians melodically play real instruments. Inside the next room boxes hang from the wall filled with childhood ephemera: baseball cards, magazines, photographs, and little toys all make an appearance. Erbe’s skill at recording a suspended reality is undeniable. As tactile as they seem, the mannequin, instruments and ephemera are all thin layers of paint on a flat canvas.

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While it is Erbe’s ability to create an uncanny reality that draws you to his canvasses, it is the lingering feeling of meaning that keeps you in front of his works. To be blunt, Erbe’s work demonstrates a technical prowess many feel is lacking in popular contemporary art. For the traditionalist who cannot see the merit in a composition of White on White or a pile of dung wrapped in barbed wire, Erbe’s work presents an alternative. Just as obvious technical skill is necessary for these paintings, so is a careful sense of composition required. Each work conveys a fundamental message, clues to which lie on the surface of the canvas.

Anyone will be fascinated with his vibrant images buzzing with internal meaning.

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A student of art will enjoy his frequent allusions to great masters; Erbe boldly references Picasso, Braque and Whistler while having subtle tributes to Dalí and Jasper Johns. Kids of all ages will get a kick out of his exquisitely copied comic book covers, baseball compositions and toy-boxes. Contemplators will wonder why Erbe chose a circus advertisement, an American flag and three images of Native Americans to occupy the same canvas.

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Canton Museum of Art presents a wide range of Erbe’s work including a few sparse winter landscapes and an example of a collage assemblage from which he painted a large work, to show his process. Overall, Erbe’s collection of carefully crafted collages offers something for everyone. From the harshest critique of contemporary art to a feisty fourth-grader, Erbe’s tromp l’oeil paintings will delight the eye and mesmerize the mind.

The Canton Museum of Art is located in the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio 44702.


Leann Schneider is a graduate student at Kent State University pursuing an MA in Art History and an MLIS with a concentration in Museum Studies. She also works as a curatorial assistant at the Kent State University Museum. You can contact Leann at lschne10@kent.edu.

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