BY ALEX GREENBERGER | ArtNews
September 25, 2020 8:33am
Robert Bechtle, a giant of the Bay Area scene associated with the Photorealist movement of the 1960s, has died at 88. A representative for the artist’s New York gallery, Gladstone, which represented him alongside San Francisco’s Anglim Gilbert gallery, confirmed his death.
Bechtle’s paintings, prints, and drawings typically involved closely relying on photographs that he took featuring imagery that defined the Bay Area region, where he was long based—cars and quotidian streets that were typically free of people. These works placed him among the Photorealists, a group of artists who were also relying on photographic material as the basis for their art.
For Bechtle, the no-frills aesthetic was intentionally free of metaphor and grand themes—the stuff that had pervaded Abstract Expressionism and other forms of abstraction that had dominated the postwar era. “This becomes a kind of still-life situation,” Bechtle said in a 2001 Archives of American Art oral history. “You can put the car in front of this house, and it is like the bottles on the table.”
Yet Bechtle was rebelling against Abstract Expressionism in another way, too. Like the Pop artists, who turned ready-made material culled from advertising and print media into the subjects of their art, Bechtle, like the other Photorealists, wwas drawing on compositions that were already defined by his camera. Originality and the artist’s hand had been prized by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and others; Bechtle, by contrast, was removing himself from his paintings, letting photographs guide him instead.