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Robert Bechtle, Pioneer of Photorealism, is dead at 88

Robert Bechtle, one of the pioneers of the photorealist movement in the 1960s, is no more. A representative of the Gladstone gallery, which represented him, confirmed that the artist died at 88.

Bechtle is known in the art world for his no-frills aesthetic that was devoid of any grand themes. At a time when the art world was crazy about abstract art styles like Abstract Expressionism, Bechtle moved away from the crowd and introduced a new style of photorealism. 

Robert Bechtle was born in 1932 in San Francisco, in a family that often moved around. After graduating in 1954, his stint as a graphic designer was cut short when he was recruited by the army. Upon his return in 1956, he started his stint as an artist and collaborated with other Bay Area artists. It was in the 60s when Bechtle showcased his photorealism style to the world. 

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Robert Bechtle, Six Houses on Mound Street, 2006. ©ROBERT BECHTLE/COURTESY GLADSTONE GALLERY, NEW YORK AND BRUSSELS

What Bechtle decided to do was strange, to say the least; for some purists, it was even horrible. He decided to project his images on the canvas and carefully trace the objects that appear on it, thus creating a painting from a photograph. But as time passed his ‘bizarre’ technique found acceptance and by the 1980s, budding artists like David Salle were already getting inspired by it. For Bechtle personally, his work was never bizarre like his critics described it. In fact, he proudly proclaimed that his work was merely a continuation of the artistic tradition that originally began during the renaissance. 

Most of Bechtle’s works featured standing cars, empty roads and vacant homes, with humans rarely appearing in them. The objects in his works also followed a distinct theme – the middle-class American. Yet, Bechtle never sought to embellish his works with any grand thoughts or philosophy. In a 2005 article for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl described his style as having a ‘reticent, stubborn grace’.