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Robert Bechtle (b. 1932)
Robert Bechtle (b. 1932)

Twentieth and Texas

Robert Bechtle (b. 1932)
Twentieth and Texas
signed twice and dated '(c) 1995 Robert Bechtle TWENTIETH AND TEXAS' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 58 in. (101.6 x 147.3 cm.)
Painted in 1995.
O.K. Harris Works of Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
L. Meisel, Photorealism at the Millenium, New York, 2002, p. 41, no. 61 (illustrated in color).
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective, February-August 2005, p. 206, no. 73 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Since the mid-1960s, Bechtle's Photo-Realist paintings of southern California have arrested viewers with their uncanny, near-photographic perfection. Often selecting the most seemingly mundane subject matter as inspiration, Bechtle (also an accomplished photographer) makes 35 mm slides that he then projects onto the surface of his canvas as a guide for the structure of his painting. Unlike his contemporaries, however, Bechtle accounts for the dislocation that exists when turning a two-dimensional object (the photograph) into another (the painting) by creating halations - barely palpable halos - between adjoining forms. Doing so infuses his paintings with a realistic sense of atmospheric light and takes away the cold mechanical look of a photograph. Bechtle's work, then, straddles the line between photograph and reality, and the viewer is left to fill in the gaps.

Bechtle's best known subjects are those most iconic aspects of suburban southern California -- cars, sun chairs, well-manicured lawns and the people who inhabit them. In Twentieth and Texas Bechtle has provided a tour de force of light and shadow as uncompromising as Edward Hopper's masterpiece Sun in an Empty Room of 1963. The imposing shadows have been captured, frozen in time as they rollback slowly to partially reveal the vintage hatchback at center, a reluctant portrait, alone and tentative-an encouraging sign of life in an otherwise unpopulated world. The mood and mystery within every Bechtle painting is individual and unique, Twentieth and Texas is an exceptional example of the artist's ability to deliver palpable experiences that are beyond the purely visual. Bechtle's use of shadow in Twentieth and Texas anticipates his more recent work depicting cars under tarpaulin covers, revealing only suggestions of their actual form. Like Alfred Hitchcock, Bechtle is able to create drama and suspense through the unseen, demanding participation from the viewer and rewarding through the engagement of the viewer's own imaginative ability.

Formally speaking, Bechtle's work shares many affinities with the great American modern masters, most notably the painter Edward Hopper. Hopper's compositions often focus attention on formal qualities of architecture and the perceived bleakness of the American roadside landscape. Like Bechtle, Hopper often eschews rendering the figure to focus instead on the places that people inhabit, usually depicted with a crisp precision and sparseness. Most notably, though, in Hopper's paintings is a certain mysterious luminosity and uncanny sense of place that leaves viewers with more questions than answers as to the scene's true purpose and meaning. Reviewing Bechtle's 2005 retrospective, the artist and writer Richard Kalina summed up Bechtle's greatness and purpose within American art today:

"Bechtle grapples with serious issues of representation, but he does so in such a laboriously off-hand way that it takes a while for a viewer to realize what the artist is up to, and just how good he is. Bechtle has taken on the sorts of problems that artists of all representational stripes are dealing with these days -- particularly the transmutation of the photographic image--and he has, over a span of 40-odd years, come up with real answers. He has proven himself to be a first-rate painter, draftsman and printmaker, and as these recent shows make clear, someone to whom we should pay serious attention" (R. Kalina, "Matters of Fact," Art in America, October 2005, p. 137.).

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