b. sakata garo

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January 15, 2010
Critic's Pick


By Victoria Dalkey, The Sacramento Bee art correspondent

"Tonopah Pick-up"/Max Bechtle.
Vernacular subject matter and photographically precise rendering characterize the works of Max Bechtle and Jeff Musser. While they share a penchant for the banal and a photorealist approach to their images, their works are markedly different in feeling. Bechtle's watercolors of pickup trucks and rundown buildings at b. sakata garo are cool and delicate, almost tentative, while Musser's oil paintings of tattooed bodies are hot and aggressive, capturing the tawdriness once associated with tattoos before they became so commonplace. Bechtle takes us down familiar territory down-at-the-heels towns in California, Nevada and Utah. In place of the tumbledown barns that once were fodder for American Scene painters, Bechtle gives us stripped- down deco gas stations and bars with American cars and trucks parked in front of them. It's a more recent world than the landscape of "The Last Picture Show" and one that still exists, but it has the same feeling of being rooted in the past rather than the present. Bechtle is a competent watercolorist and he works in the tradition of Edward Hopper, Ralph Goings and his father, Robert Bechtle, capturing lonesome buildings from a train, old airplanes and beached cabin cruisers, cold-blooded images of car dealerships and garages. He's prolific and includes some plein air scenes, which seem a little more lively though at times less resolved than his studio productions. In "Tonopah Pick-Up" he focuses on a bleached-out scene of a garage in a desert town in Nevada. The shiny pickup parked in front and the functional but ugly architecture of the garage make it a scene that might be anywhere in the West of open roads and lonesome distances. Like most of Bechtle's works, it casts a cool, yet affectionate eye on a typical American scene. In "Warm Springs Bar," a guy with a motorcycle is stuck in the middle of nowhere in a sun blasted landscape. "Utah Gas Pumps" is an essentially nostalgic view of an old car parked in weeds near antiquated gas pumps. Life on the road gives us looks at a big rig on a Utah highway, a hardware store in Angel's Camp, a junk filled back yard in Tuolumne. An image of a San Francisco house from the '50s is a Hopperesque arrangement of geometric blocks but lacks Hopper's voyeuristic glimpses into the lives of lonely Americans. With the exception of "Warm Springs Bar," people are missing from Bechtle's landscape and it is cars that stand in for the human presence. Bechtle is best at capturing the architecture of old towns, as in "Tuolumne Corner," "Sonora Corner" and "San Andreas Fire Escape" quintessential California foothills scenes. His is a hard-boiled, yet loving, vision of a past that still haunts our present.

The show continues at b. sakata garo, 923 20th Street, (916) 447.4276 through Saturday January 3p, www.bsakatagaro.com