For more than 40 years Robert Bechtle has pursued a quiet realism, working from photographs of familiar subjects to depict precise moments in time. Despite their photographic origins, however, his canvases are resolutely and finally about painting. Underneath the smooth sheen of their surfaces lies a textured web of strokes and dabs, where abstract shapes meet edges to form an intricate, layered view of our environment.

Bechtle has often spoken of the "dumbness" of his car paintings, suggesting that the images are so everyday as to be meaningless. But they are anything but ordinary snapshots. As an artist with roots in the California middle class, Bechtle early on recognized both the cultural significance of cars and the relative lack of artistic representations of them. The pristine gloss of his automobile paintings suggests advertising images, though he typically depicts family cars, such as this station wagon, in mundane settings. While he sometimes portrays cars as members of the family, in Alameda Gran Torino, the car appears as its own entity. Its isolation lends the scene an uneasiness: if automobiles exist to move people, then this car's utter stillness emphasizes the absence of passengers.


  • Title: Alameda Gran Torino
  • Creator: Robert Bechtle
  • Creator Lifespan: 1932
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Birth Place: San Francisco, California
  • Date Created: 1974
  • Physical Dimensions: w1752.6 x h1219.2 in (overall)
  • Type: painting
  • Rights: © Robert Bechtle
  • External Link: SFMOMA
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Subject: California, United States
  • Place Part Of: United States
  • More Info: Watch: Robert Bechtle gets (photo)real, More About This Artist - SFMOMA, Oral History Interviews with Artists - SFMOMA via ROHO
  • Credit Line: T. B. Walker Foundation Fund purchase in honor of John Humphrey
  • About the Artist: A native and lifelong resident of the Bay Area, Robert Bechtle focuses on the things he knows best, such as family, cars, houses, and neighborhoods. In doing so he turns what seem to be ordinary scenes of middle-class American life into paintings. During his student years and into the 1960s, when he was getting his artistic footing, Pop art was evolving across the country and Bay Area Figurative art was flourishing locally. His resistance to getting caught up in the sensuous surfaces of figurative painting prompted him to move toward a tightly controlled paint handling and to work with photographic source material as a fundamental and explicit part of his practice, simultaneously exploring California culture and basic issues of painting in very matter-of-fact ways.

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