Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

1. Painting the Bay Area

As Eva Respini has observed, photography and the American West came of age simultaneously, providing a documentary accompaniment to geographic exploration and exploitation and a recorded image to project potent ideals of national identity. Bechtle's Photorealism both draws on and reformulates this rich photographic legacy, while concurrently negotiating the traditions of American modernist and local figurative painting. The artist's sustained attention to the everyday reflects the cultural impact of transformations in the built environment and middle-class lifestyles. He paints the city and suburbs not simply to record ordinary lives and neighbourhoods, but to explore how a hybrid artistic process can produce new visual understandings of changing spatial alignments in the American landscape.
Bechtle has devoted several decades to representing the residential neighbourhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area. Depicting common activities and architectural structures, his work interfuses the concreteness of local images with the broad, complex issues of contemporary socio-spatial relationships. Almost all of Bechtle's paintings depict his home turf: one can chart the artist's movements through the Bay Area by tracking his oeuvre. Early paintings in Alameda are of Bechtle's hometown; canvases from the 1970s frequently picture Oakland and Berkeley, where he worked and lived during these years; in the 1980s, the artist moved to San Francisco and subsequently began painting its streets and neighbourhoods in earnest. Collectively, the works include environments classified as both urban and suburban – whether picturing the city of San Francisco or its smaller East Bay neighbours, Bechtle's paintings concentrate on similar intersections of private and public space in these various locales. 

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