Robert Bechtle who has died age 88 was an American painter and printmaker born in San Francisco in 1932. He lived all his life in the Bay Area. His practice focused on snapshots from everyday life, mostly his own life.
California, middle-class surroundings — is basically what the paintings have been about all along – RB
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 realised he was “beautiful.” Schjeldahl concluded the article in this way: “Life is incredibly complicated, and the proof is that when you confront any simple, stopped part of it, you are stupefied.”
Bechtle 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. 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.
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, watercolours, and drawings—he was an accomplished printmaker. Bechtle began in lithography but, after 1982 when Crown Point Press began publishing his prints, worked mainly in etching.
Along with John Baeder, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Richard McLean, and Ralph Goings, Bechtle was 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 photographs, Bechtle created paintings described as photographic. Taking inspiration from his local San Francisco surroundings, he painted friends and family and the neighbourhoods and street scenes, paying particular 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 colour, 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 realised he 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.”
From 1956 to 1966 he taught at the University of California, Berkeley and from 1967 to 1968 at the University of California, Davis. From 1968 he taught at San Francisco State University and lived in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighbourhood.
Bechtle was represented by the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City and Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco. He created prints with the Crown Point Press in San Francisco from 1982.
Robert Bechtle died 24 September in 2020 age 88.