Born in San Francisco in 1932, raised in Alameda, artist Robert Bechtle has lived most of his 82 years in the Bay Area. He received his Bachelor and Master of Fine Arts from the California College of the Arts in Oakland, and taught painting at San Francisco State University for 30 years. He currently resides in Potrero Hill.
Bechtle works in watercolor, lithography, and printmaking. He’s best known for his photorealistic works, a painting style in which an artist recreates a photograph in the medium of their choice. Bechtle paints scenes inspired by photographs he’s taken in various Bay Area locations, in many cases while on walks in Potrero Hill. Bechtle began painting in this style in the mid-1960s, before photorealism was popularized in the late-1960s, making him a pioneering photorealist painter.
Bechtle’s work draws viewers into commonplace, every-day scenes. His 2013 image, Arkansas Street, is a watercolor monotype depicting sloping Arkansas Street in pastel hues. In another one of his 2013 works, Up Twentieth Street, Bechtle used charcoal to portray the shadows that fall on tree-lined 20th Street, capturing the tranquil nature that saturates the neighborhood.
“Robert Bechtle’s paintings and drawings of the Potrero neighborhood come from a strong sense of place,” said Shannon Trimble, the operations manager at Gallery Paule Anglim, a gallery that represents a handful of Bechtle’s works. “He lives in this neighborhood and the hills and quality of light affect him personally, contributing directly to the intimacy one feels in his drawings and paintings.”
Bechtle is principally represented by Barbara Gladstone Gallery in New York City. His works have been displayed at museums throughout the world, and is featured in collections at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of Modern Art in both New York City and San Francisco.
Bechtle has two children, Max and Anne, with his first wife, Nancy Dalton, whom he married in 1962. After Bechtle and Dalton divorced, he married art historian Whitney Chadwick. The two met while teaching at SFSU. Anne now lives in Sacramento with three children of her own, and Max lives in Tuolumne County.