"You can take a photograph of something but you never possess it because it's too fast...there's something that's very intense about the experience of sitting down and having to look at it in the way that you do in order to make a drawing of it, or to make a painting of it...but by the time you're done that you feel that you've really understood what you were looking at and also that you've left a little of yourself there, and somehow it becomes a way of...possessing the experience in a way that another manner doesn't quite seem to do" (R. Bechtle, quoted in J. Weinberg, "Photographic Guilt: The Painter and the Camera." Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective, San Francisco, 2005, p. 60).
Robert Bechtle's '64 Chrysler quintessentially illustrates his signature subject matter, the American family automobile, parked on the side of a deserted suburban street. Bechtle's pioneering photorealist style instills clarity, emulating the car's own sleek outlines and mechanical precision. Bechtle represents his view of American suburbia untarnished by any signs of human life, using the majestic form of the automobile, which spurred suburban development in the first place.
Robert Bechtle often described his paintings of cars as still life props, which is consistent with art historian Norman Bryson's definition of such objects as "things which, belonging to the mundane spaces of daily life, are taken so entirely for granted that familiarity itself pushes them far below the threshold of visual distinctness." These scenes' everyday nature fired Bechtle's imagination. He places utmost importance on the quality of the light. He often photographs his chosen subjects in the late morning or early afternoon, when the sunlight is at its strongest. The intense southern Californian light adds to both the tone and texture of Bechtle's works. Once he has selected the image, he projects the slide onto a canvas and outlines its contours. He then takes up to two or three months building up his finished images, precisely applying layers of pigment and ever-so-slightly cropping, adapting and refining the composition to match his initial perception. In this way, Bechtle deeply investigates natural light's limits and properties, creating an ethereal intensity and evenness, portraying a peace and stillness rarely experienced in modern life.