by Len Lear
Martha Eberbach, a Mt. Airy resident whose stunning work, reminiscent of the German Expressionists, has been widely exhibited for decades, is currently on exhibit through Oct. 31 at the Lieberman Gallery of the Germantown Settlement Music School, 6128 Germantown Ave., curated by Diane Connelly.
Eberbach, 75, grew up on Stafford Street in Germantown and attended Greene Street Friends School and Germantown Friends School with “wonderful teachers and smart students to interact with.”
Astonishingly, Martha knew she wanted to be an artist by the time she was 2 years old. “One of my earliest memories is of trying to make an image and not having the digital dexterity to draw properly,” she said, “getting in a rage and throwing paper and pencil across the room. I drew and painted all the time and resented having to do homework, which took me away from my artwork.”
Martha started going to the Philadelphia Art Museum at the precocious age of 6 and began taking art classes when she was only 11 or 12. “I was a born Bohemian. I knew early on I wanted an exciting life, which I have had.”
Martha’s mother was a stay-at-home mom but was educated and interested in the arts. Her dad was a research chemist and an accomplished musician. They took her to exhibitions and concerts and constantly encouraged her to read books. “My grandmother was also an accomplished painter and sculptor,” she said, “and had a wonderful collection of art books which I read. The house I grew up in had my grandmother’s art on the walls and wonderful reproductions of famous pieces of sculpture. Before I was born, my mother was a professional jazz singer who sounded exactly like Ella Fitzgerald.”
Martha is a graduate of the University of the Arts who has taught painting, drawing and art history at Somerset County Community College in New Jersey. “I was fortunate enough to have a fabulous teacher who taught a Joseph Albers course that was taught at Yale, based on his great book ‘The Interaction of Color.’”
Martha works in many mediums that are two-dimensional, mostly paper and canvas. Her works in the current exhibit, however, are acrylic paintings on canvas. “I love oil paint,” she said, “and that was my first love, but eventually fumes of the solvents got to me, and I had to stop … I love the flexibility of acrylic paint … You can paint over it and use all kinds of textures. You can use it as collage. You can also draw with it.”
Martha’s work has been strongly influenced by the New York Modernists, who were intimately connected with the spirit and methodology of jazz. Also by the German Expressionists, many of whom came to Manhattan during World War II. “German Expressionism has a vibrancy plus a connection to the history of European art and art of prehistory … They still look fresh and not slick in a wonderful way to me.”
The artist Martha admires the most? “Paul Klee. His variety and invention. The combination of seriousness of playfulness. His fecundity and the pleasure that his paintings bring us. Also his universality.” If she had to do it over again, would Martha still be an artist? “Yes, categorically, I would still be an artist. Maybe a little smarter, though, and a little bit more pushy.”
If Martha could meet and converse with any artist on earth, who would it be? “David Hockney. His fecundity, his curiosity, the beauty of his paintings.” If she could meet any artist who is now deceased, who would it be? “Pierre Bonnard. His ability to be revolutionary and beautiful and cozy all the same time. His humanity, humility and decency.”
Interestingly on a personal level, Martha has a wonderful relationship with her former husband, an internationally known photographer named Michael A Smith, and his wife, Paula Chamlee. “They both do beautiful work, and they are very responsive and supportive to my work. And my cousins, my closest blood relatives, have always been very supportive of my work, which I appreciate.”
When not painting, Martha likes to dance, play with the cat, hang out with friends, go to the art museum, go to New York, go to the movies, read, walk in the neighborhood and listen to jazz.
There will be a reception for Martha and student recital at Settlement this Saturday, Oct. 24, 2 p.m.
More information at 215-320-2610 or www.smsmusic.org.