Martha Meyer Erlebacher

Fischbach Gallery

While Martha Mayer Erlebacher has certainly studied the history of art, and has looked hard at the rich tradition of allegorical painting, she is neither a neo-Classicist nor a rigid adherent of any theory of contemporary narrative painting. Instead she is guided in her treatment of form and content by a firm belief that, as she has said on occasion, “the human experience is the proper subject matter of art.”

Erlebacher, unlike some of her contemporaries, allows herself to vary her technique. Compared with her meticulous applications of a few years ago, the brushwork employed here was relatively loose. Realism has functioned as a dynamic mode of description for her, throughout, but where linear hardness and sharply focused details were typical of the figures of the mid ’80s, those shown here were distinguished by softer modeling and more fluently handled surfaces.

In works like The Garden at the Entrance to Purgatory, 1992, Lilith, 1992, A Man And A Woman, 1993, and Self-Portrait, 1992, the illumination of form is the key to the painting’s meaning. In The Garden at the Entrance to Purgatory, the shadows falling across the bodies of the nude female figures, the “living” statues, well-tended lawns and hedges, and the cloudy sky, lend the work a sense of ominousness. The most dramatically shaded figure, the one who is looking into a mirror and adjusting the white cloak enveloping her torso, is also the one standing closest to the hanging vertical black form. Lilith, Erlebacher’s vision of the first woman—a voluptuous nude figure draped across a red cushion and gold satin cloth, with head and chest thrust back and arms spread out against a dark landscape—is a paean to female sensuality. The setting was a reference to the reputation Lilith gained as a witch during the Middle Ages, and it set off the figure’s bewitching allure. Once again the use of light and shadow in this composition underscored the artist’s view of the body as a vital container of life-giving forces.

Ronny Cohen