Robert Bechtle

About the Artist:
Bechtle’s paintings of San Francisco/Oakland streets and of cars—the symbol of California culture—are classic American icons that reflect the California scene. His streetscapes are neutral, objective, often devoid of any human presence. Bleached by the strong California sun, the scenes reflect a sense of void and alienation He states in the Oakland Museum catalog, “My subject matter is my immediate world, objects that I know and care about. They represent the essence of the American experience.”
Typically, a Bechtle composition includes a foreground of asphalt roadway; a midground that contains the main subject, often a parked car; and in the background, the façade of a building. Much of the detail in the scene is edited out, resulting in simple, organized, almost abstract forms.
Bechtle defines his own paintings as “realist” since he works from, but is not limited by, photographic detail. He began to use the camera so that he could work on figure paintings while his model, his wife, wasn’t around. After he began painting cars, he found that he needed the camera to preserve the scene as the light changed. The camera makes possible the freezing of single moments in time, recorded with every minute detail. He uses the camera as a sketchbook, and then turns the scenes of American vernacular suburban culture into metaphors for alienation and loneliness.
Bechtle explores issues of light and lack of centrality in composition. He uses tilted, often empty foregrounds to achieve emotional as well as visual effects. Chrome bumpers, spindly palm trees, creamy stucco, and patterned fabrics come alive in his hands. His early work was flat, bland, with minimal shadow. In the early ’80s he began using higher contrast, with dramatic backlighting and darker shadows that incorporated subliminal colors, reflecting his interest in such Old Masters as Vermeer and Velasquez. Bechtle has worked incessently on images of suburban automobiles. The scenes, through unexpressive and inviolate, convey hidden subtle intimations of emotion. His background landscapes, cold as they seem, are often interpretive. His paintings and prints echo the adage that the most obvious presents the greatest challenge to the trained eye.

Biography:

Born 1932, San Francisco,CA
Education California College of Arts and Crafts, CA, BA, MFA;University of California, Berkeley, CA.
TeachingUniversity of California, Davis, CA, 1966-68;Professor of Printmaking, California College of Arts and Crafts, 1957 – present;San Francisco State University, CA, 1968-98
Awards: James S Phelan Award, Painting, 1965;Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 1985; National Endowment for the Arts Grants, 1977,82,89.
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Résumé:

Exhibitions Over the past 40 years Bechtle has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe as well as in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Solo retrospective Oakland Museum of California:”California Classic: Realist Paintings by Robert Bechtle” May 6 – Oct. 1, 2000. The exhibition included 18 paintings and drawings from 1965 to 1997.Collections include but are not limited toAchenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco, CA; Arts Council of Great Britain, UK; Chase Manhattan Bank, New York, NY; E.B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, CA; Doane College, Crete, NB; Gibbes Art Gallery of the Carolina Art Association, Charleston, S.C.; Library of Congress, Washington DC; Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Fl; Mills College, Oakland, CA; Musuem of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Neue Galerie der Stadt Aachenm Germany;Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Sloan Galleries of American Painting, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN;United States Information Agency; University Arts Museum, University of California, Berkeley, CA; University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NB;Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and many others.

Statement:

The work of one of America’s founders of photorealism was highlighted in “California Classic: Realist Paintings by Robert Bechtle” at the Oakland Museum of California May 6 – Oct. 1, 2000. The exhibition included 18 paintings and drawings by the Bay Area artist, dating from 1965 to 1997.

Bechtle’s paintings of San Francisco/Oakland streets and of cars—the symbol of California culture—are classic American icons that reflect the California scene. “My subject matter is my immediate world, objects that I know and care about,” Bechtle says in the exhibition catalog. “They represent the essence of the American experience.” His streetscapes are neutral, objective, often devoid of any human presence. Bleached by the strong California sun, the scenes reflect a sense of void and alienation.

Typically, a Bechtle composition includes a foreground of asphalt roadway; a midground that contains the main subject, often a parked car; and in the background, the façade of a building. Much of the detail in the scene is edited out, resulting in simple, organized, almost abstract forms.

The term photorealism was coined by New York gallery owner Louis K. Meisel in 1968, and was first used in print in the 1970 exhibition “Twenty-two Realists” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photorealists base their works on photographs, using such mechanical means as copying onto a grid or projecting the image onto the canvas to transfer the information. The finished work is made to appear photographic, with even tones, flattened forms, and apparently unselective detail. Bechtle defines his own paintings as realist, since he works from, but is not limited by, photographic detail.

He began to use the camera so that he could work on figure paintings while his model, his wife, wasn’t around. After he began painting cars, he found that he needed the camera to preserve the scene as the light changed. The camera makes possible the freezing of single moments in time, recorded with every minute detail. He uses the camera as a sketchbook, then turns the scenes of American vernacular suburban culture into metaphors for alienation and loneliness.

Bechtle explores issues of light and lack of centrality in composition. He uses tilted, often empty foregrounds to achieve emotional as well as visual effects. Chrome bumpers, spindly palm trees, creamy stucco, and patterned fabrics come alive in his hands. His early work was flat, bland, with minimal shadow. In the early ’80s he began using higher contrast, with dramatic backlighting and darker shadows that incorporated subliminal colors, reflecting his interest in such Old Masters as Vermeer and Velasquez.

Additional Information:

Born: 1932
Birthplace: San Francisco CA, USA
Website: http://www.museumca.org/exhibit/exhib_bechtle.html

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