Bechtle’s control of his work and his vision is almost unnerving freezing a moment in time beyond what any photo can do. One of the seminal photorealiuts, he embodies the motivation behind the movement.
Robert Bechtle is an American painter, born in San Francisco, California, on May 14, 1932. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts (1954) and Master of Fine Arts (1958) from the California College of Arts and Crafts, now the California College of the Arts, in Oakland, California.
Except for his military service in Germany, Bechtle has lived all his life in the Bay Area; and his art is centered on scenes from everyday life.
He started drawing at a young age and, with encouragement from his teachers and his family, pursued a future as an artist. By submitting a portfolio of artwork to a national competition, Bechtle won a scholarship that paid for his first year of college. When he graduated, he was drafted and sent to Berlin, where he painted murals in the Mess Hall and delighted in visiting European museums. Besides making paintings, watercolors, and drawings—he is an accomplished printmaker. Bechtle began in lithography but, after 1982 when Crown Point Press began publishing his prints, worked mainly in etching.
Along with Richard Estes, Chuck Close, and Ralph Goings, Bechtle is considered to be one of the earliest Photorealists. By the mid-1960s, he had started developing a style and subject matter that he has maintained over his career. Working from his own photographs, Bechtle creates paintings described as photographic. Taking inspiration from his local San Francisco surroundings, he painted friends and family and the neighborhoods and street scenes, paying special attention to automobiles. Bechtle’s brushwork is barely detectable in his photo-like renditions. His paintings reveal his perspective on how things look to him, the color, and the light of a commonplace scene. Peter Schjeldahl wrote in The New Yorker that in 1969, when he first noticed a Bechtle painting, he was “rattled by the middle-class ordinariness of the scene.” As he looked more closely, he discovered “a feat of resourceful painterly artifice” that he gradually realized was “beautiful.” The article concludes: “Life is incredibly complicated, and the proof is that when you confront any simple, stopped part of it you are stupefied.”