Gladstone 64 presents an exhibition of new works by Robert Bechtle for the artist’s first show at the uptown gallery.
An early pioneer of the Photorealist movement, Bechtle has worked for nearly 60 years visualizing a characteristically American setting through depictions of friends, family and streetscapes in his native San Francisco Bay Area. This exhibition focuses on Bechtle’s charcoal drawings that illustrate the residential streets of Alameda, and pays special attention to those which complement light and shadow, architecture and automobile with distinct photographic precision. In this latest body of works, Bechtle demonstrates his deeply attuned and uncanny personal approach to documenting contemporary American culture with extraordinary accuracy.
Created in 2016 and 2017, Bechtle’s new series of drawings captures an indiscernibly timeless view of northern Californian suburban life. Composed with sharp attention to detail, modest visual clues shed light on the contrasting soft and delicate quality of these charcoal drawings while new vantage points offer equally distinct shifts to the far right or left of these frameworks. Alameda, the recurring city in these works and in Bechtle’s oeuvre altogether, is alluded to through his inclusion of small bungalow homes and globe-topped streetlamps, which originated in this particular municipality in the early 20th-century. Bechtle spent many of his early years in Alameda, and he captures this community and landscape through incisive, square-format drawings that glimpse more deeply into the banal and the all too often overlooked. By illustrating multiple perspectives of this city through monochromatic drawings, Bechtle quietly shapes the pauses and shadows that find or leave us and displays how photography, memory and personal history influence these meticulous compositions.
Often inspired by his own photographs, Bechtle’s intimate drawings demonstrate his asute and cinematographic vision, through each work’s methodically framed compositions and through his unequivocal attention to capturing divergent forms of natural light. Bechtle’s drawings appear like stills from a noir film, quietly examining forlorn, desolate sidewalks and vacant cars that line unidentified streets. This psychological dramaticism is reiterated through sharp and exacting image crops, which force the viewer into a condensed and eerie narrative showing no evidence of who or what might occupy the space outside these scenes he presents. Bechtle is also able to masterfully recreate morning, afternoon and evening light, hightening the palpable realism he captures in these constructed narratives, providing a glimse into his ever explorative eye.
Robert Bechtle was born in 1932 in San Francisco, where he continues to live and work. In 2004, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized a lauded retrospective of his work that traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. His paintings have been included in major group exhibitions internationally since the 1960s, including “America is Hard to See,” Whitney Museum of American Art; “The Artist as His Subject,” Museum of Modern Art, New York; Documenta 5, Kassel, Germany; “The American Century: Art and Culture, 1950-2000,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; “Les Anneés Pop,” Centre Pompidou, Paris; and “Infinite Painting,” Villa Manin Centro d’Art Contemporanea, Codroipo, Italy. Bechtle was awarded the Francis J. Greenberger Award for continued excellence in painting in 2003.