Robert Bechtle. (Reviews: San Francisco)

By Helfand, Glen | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Robert Bechtle. (Reviews: San Francisco)


Helfand, Glen, Artforum International


GALLERY PAULE ANGLIM

Robert Bechtle's Photorealistic paintings from the late '6os quickly became classics of the genre, taking the banal icons of suburbia--American cars parked in the sloping sunbaked driveways of flat-fronted tract homes--as their subject. Bechtle has clung to the practice and theme ever since, working exclusively from daylight snapshots as the source for his images of ordinary afternoons in California neighborhoods. Even so, the artist has repeatedly burrowed in and mastered technical challenges while infusing his paintings and drawings with subtle stylistic innovations.

Bechtle's exhibition of thirteen recent charcoal drawings found his work at a point of renewed relevance. Artists like Jeff Koons and Ron Mueck are revisiting Photorealism at the same time that Bechtle is making a refreshing shift to a darker tone, exploring a changed quality of light. Although his lonely subdivision settings remain the same, this series is his first to feature night scenes: a somber selection of residential facades, empty street corners, and seemingly abandoned vehicles. While the artist has consistently used snapshots as blueprints for his pictures, for these night scenes he had to improvise the effect of fading light, something he found the camera couldn't adequately capture. Bechtle manages quite well; his drawings display a full range of twilight tones and exude a gentle insistence that comes from the artist s unerring focus.

A downbeat aura pervades the drawings. Nearly all the works are made on paper tinted blue, gray, or light brown, which adds to the thick atmosphere. Along with tackling the formal challenge of conveying night, Bechtle, now seventy, seems to be thinking as deeply about mortality as about the stucco crumble of suburban blight. …

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