Robert Bechtle (American, born 1932)
French Doors II, 1966
Oil on canvas 72 in. x 62 in. (182.88 cm x 157.48 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1966.56
Robert Bechtle has long made mundane subjects even more prosaic by working from photographs. When he first began to paint as a graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts), he did not do so. But as he grappled with the challenges of painting highly realistic, as opposed to expressionistic, subjects, he turned to the projected slide as a tool. Using images he shot himself, he allowed all the compositional choices to be settled the instant the camera’s shutter clicked. Once traced onto canvas, Bechtle was free to pursue issues of color and illusionism. The snapshot aesthetic was important to Bechtle and others who made photography central to their work during the mid1960s. This is particularly evident in Bechtle’s casual subject matter: San Francisco street scenes, East Bay bungalows, and automobiles. It is wrong, however, to assume that Bechtle exactly replicated his sources. His works are instead exercises in control and decision making, when to crop, heighten color, or efface unwanted detail. Yet, like photographs, Bechtle’s paintings are often accepted at face value as being documents of his surroundings, family, and owned objects, rather than as the skillfully conceived representations they are. French Doors II is the second of two paintings in which Bechtle explored his reflection caught in these doors. He appears to occupy the space of the viewer, and together we look at his wife Nancy, seated at the table. With one door ajar, Bechtle exploits illusionism to its fullest, employing the seam between the two canvases to enhance our perception that this is a real, not virtual space.