Professor Bechtle, Photorealist Painter of the Everyday Middle Class, Dies at 88

Monday, September 28, 2020

KQED ARTS (SAN FRANCISCO) -- Robert Bechtle, whose paintings of cars, families and intersections transformed the mundane into the captivating, died Thursday morning. He was 88.

A longtime Bay Area resident, Bechtle was one of the figureheads of American photorealism, alongside artists such as Robert Estes, Ralph Goings and Chuck Close. Seeking to conceal brushstrokes in order to convey the look of a photograph, Bechtle painted everyday street scenes of suburban life that resembled Kodak prints, lending their middle-class banality a magical aura.

Bechtle dabbled in the expressionism of the day, but eventually forged his own style — or lack thereof. “The realist painting really was a way of saying ‘I’m not interested in style,’” he told KQED in a 2004 profile. “This is a no-style way of painting. It just goes back to looking, which is a classic artist’s and painter’s ploy, to say, ‘I just want to look, and observe and learn.’ And it worked.”

As Bechtle’s star rose, he accepted offers to teach at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and San Francisco State University. Beginning in the early 1980s, Bechtle lived in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, where he photographed urban landscapes — hills, concrete walls, backyards — which he would turn into vibrant paintings.