Decatur art professor publishes first book at age 75

“When I arrived in Atlanta, everything seemed to be in slow motion. Also, the fact that everything closed so early was a shock. Then I discovered all the great places for breakfast, and that helped me adjust.” Also an avid year-round tennis player, Erpf calls moving to Atlanta “the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Julian Schnabel, Patients and Doctors (1978).

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Julian Schnabel, Patients and Doctors (1978).

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Credit: Courtesy of the artist

The period in 20th-century art history that Erpf documents in “Painting in the 1980s” has great significance, but is an inaccurate characterization. She often taught the era during her 12 years at SCAD in a course called Painting, Punk, and Photography: The Downtown New York Art World of the 1980s. Her first book examines the revival of painting in the 1980s and the influence of artists including Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, David Sall, Marlene Dumas, Georges Condo and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their work, Erpf says, signaled a return to painting after the dominance of minimalism and conceptual art in the previous decade.

“Great artists of the 1980s breathed life back into the practice of painting, even though art experts had declared painting dead,” says Erpf.

After the economic downturn of the 1970s, New York was a welcoming place for artists from all over the country. “Location played an important role,” says Erpf in Painting in the 1980s.

“Cheap housing in lower Manhattan has lured artists from many disciplines.”

Marlene Dumas “Evil is banal” (“Evil is banal”), (1984).

Credit: Peter Cox, Eindhoven. Courtesy of Studio Dumas.

Marlene Dumas

Credit: Peter Cox, Eindhoven. Courtesy of Studio Dumas.

Marlene Dumas “Evil is banal” (“Evil is banal”), (1984).

Credit: Peter Cox, Eindhoven. Courtesy of Studio Dumas.

Credit: Peter Cox, Eindhoven. Courtesy of Studio Dumas.

Although some have called these 1980s artists Neo-Expressionists, Erpf argues that these particular artists are only alike in their unique approaches to painting.

“What I love about this period is the variety of expression,” she tells the AJC. “The fact that there’s no single style … is exciting.”

“The heart of the book is the creative journey of artists; no two are alike,” she says. So while Fischl often wove the influence of modernist painting and his personal experience of growing up in the suburbs into his ambiguous, story-driven paintings, Salle was deeply inspired by film, and Larry Pittman brought identity politics and social criticism to the fore in his work, along with his love of decoration and craft.

“When you think about painting with its rich history, the argument that there is nothing ‘new’ about painting makes sense. But these artists found a way to make it new and original in terms of content, imagery, sources, process and/or art historical references,” says Erpf.

Carroll Dunham’s American Walnut (1984).

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

To Carol Dunham

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Carroll Dunham’s American Walnut (1984).

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

In addition to this revival of painting by American artists, Erpf’s book examines German and Italian artists such as Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, George Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter, who often considered nationhood and embodied regionalism in their paintings.

Prominent figures in the art world, including former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Lowery Stokes Sims and Dan Cameron, praised Erpf’s book. And one of the painting’s superstars of the 1980s, Julian Schnabel, offered his own blessing for the project after some initial resistance.

“He might seem full of himself, but that’s just his passion for art,” Erpf says of their conversations around her book. “But he’s really nice, appreciative and supportive of the creative process, whether it’s painting or film or writing.”

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