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Beloved Art Teacher's Life Celebrated in Retrospective of Her Work

By Irene Plagianos | October 31, 2013 12:44pm
Martha Erlebacher Retrospective at NY Art Academy
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Courtesy of the Art Academy of New York

TRIBECA — Paintings by beloved TriBeCa art teacher Martha Erlebacher will soon go on display at the fine arts academy that she helped establish more than 30 years ago.

The New York Academy of Art is hosting a retrospective of vivid paintings by the artist, who died in June at the age of 76 after battling cancer.

Erlebacher was the "heart and soul" of the academy, said Peter Drake, the graduate school’s dean of academic affairs, in an emailed statement.

Erlebacher’s husband and fellow painter, Walter Erlebacher, was a founder of the nonprofit graduate art school, which opened in TriBeCa in 1982.

The academy “couldn’t have existed without them [the Erlebachers],” Drake said.

 The New York Art Academy in TriBeCa is holding a Martha Erlebacher Retrospective through November 2013.
Martha Erlebacher Retrospective
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Erlebacher’s retrospective will be the largest public exhibition of her paintings, include never-before-displayed works that span her 45-year career.

The artist, known for her technical mastery of the human figure, still lifes and portraits, has had her work exhibited in museums across the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

Earlier this year, she received top honors at the 2013 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her vulnerable, bald self-portrait, painted as she struggled with cancer. The portrait is currently on view at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

"What I find the most fun is to look at something and replicate it and copy it — something that's out there and make a two-dimensional image," Erlebacher said in an interview after winning the prestigious portrait competition in May. "I fantasize that I can record the form that I'm looking at."

“Of course, I’m thrilled," she added with a smile, when asked about winning, "but my portrait is not going to win a beauty contest, if you know what I mean."

Drake described Erlebacher as "a force of nature."

"She was driven to perfection in her work and her teaching," he said. "Many is the grown man who quivered at the thought of her razor-sharp criticism, but so too are there legions of students who adored her and benefited enormously from her exacting standards.

"She was a supreme craftsman as a painter and a deeply knowledgeable anatomist who made it her mission to revive and preserve a classical understanding of the human form,” Drake said.

Martha Erlebacher's paintings will be on display at the New York Academy of Art's 111 Franklin St. gallery from Nov. 5 to 24.