Robert Bechtle at Gladstone Gallery
Robert Bechtle’s works can often be dated by the make and model of the cars he chooses to include in his paintings and drawings. The small suite of recent drawings on view at Gladstone Gallery in New York are no different. The centerpiece of the show is aptly a large oil painting titled Bob’s Sebring, in which the artist depicts himself standing next to a silver Sebring convertible. Known for working from photographs for his intensely detailed works, the image represents a typically awkward moment. While the car is shown from an optimal angle, parked at a diagonal as one might see on a car lot or in a showroom, the artist’s pose is one of humble reserve, and stands in sharp contrast to the ostentatiousness of his new car. Positioned in the crook of the open car door, we are unsure as to whether he has parked his car just so for the photograph, or about to drive away. – Nadiah Fellah, NYC Contributor
In past works, Bechtle has often re-created family photos, setting members against the backdrop of family cars. Quotidian moments made iconic through his meticulous renderings, his children, wife, and mother, are all the subjects of paintings with titles like ’61 Pontiac and Alameda Chrysler. The car scenes thus bring to mind the quintessential—if not somewhat mythical—scenes of middle-class American life: a family road trip, birthday and anniversary gatherings, or simply moments of weekend leisure. As the car scenes become signifiers for life events, Bob’s Sebring therefore fits well into his oeuvre. In it, the artist stands alone, his age apparent in his white beard, and—his children now grown and gone—he stands alongside a car no longer intended for practicality.
The same wry sentiment about the passage of time can be seen in Malibu 4906. In this fragmentary image, the front of a 1980s-era Chevy Malibu is shown with a noticeable dent in its front end. Although the work is a monochromatic charcoal drawing, one can see that the car’s front clip is a different color that the side door and rear, indicating the patchwork appearance typical of older, worked-on cars. In this way, the small drawing is also a commentary on time’s passing, representing a slight disruption in the usual timeless quality of Bechtle’s images. The low viewing angle of the scene is also unique, allowing the artist to include an expanse of roadway and detailed manhole cover in the image, even as he omits the rear of the car itself.
The other watercolors and charcoal drawings on view are indicative of the artist’s native San Francisco. The images, not unlike snapshots, show the quiet, car-lined streets of his Potrero Hill neighborhood, known for its nearly harrowing slopes and striking views of downtown, as can be seen in the background of Down Arkansas Street. These sun-drenched scenes, which rarely include drivers or pedestrians, conjure the midday lull of any residential neighborhood, a calm and meditative time, one can imagine, for painting.
Robert Bechtle was born in 1932 in San Francisco, where he lives and works. In 2004, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art organized a 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 group exhibitions internationally since the 1960s, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Documenta 5, Kassel, Germany; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Robert Bechtle is on view at Gladstone Gallery through February 15th.
Nadiah Fellah is a doctoral student of Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY in New York.