Full disclosure—although we’ve never met, I’ve been following Nancy Bechtol, aka @madpalx, for a couple of years, and liked her work enough to contact her to ask if I could use a piece on a card in my ARTarot. The world is full of surprises, and I was thrilled to receive notice of this show with Nancy and her husband David, also a photographer, at ARC Gallery. I went, saw their work, and was astonished—no two artists could be farther apart in concept and style. While David’s long, long panoramic images are breathtaking in their portrayal of North American landscapes, Nancy’s wild, erratic and excitingly dynamic work is at the other end of the photographic spectrum. There is an immediacy to her work that almost defies description. She is clearly a master of the digital medium, and her ease is apparent in the looseness of her compositions, her comfort with the processes and willingness to try anything.
David, on the other hand, presents nature at its most pristine—not a hair out of place, as it were. That is not to say that his work is remote or sterile in any way. In fact, the opposite—he includes the viewer in his experience of place, we are there, as if teleported to the locales in which he’s made the works. I’ve been to some of the places and standing in front of them, I’m there again. “Stormy Sunset over Lanai” is the perfect example. There are images that on first glance look like paintings and because Nancy has some painted or mixed media works in her half of the exhibition, I assumed he did as well. Not so. Although painterly, all of his work is purely photographic.
Anyone who has been around Chicago for a while will know who the late Lee Groban was. In a marvelous digitally created image, Nancy personifies Groban as “the last Hippie Freak.” The colors are wild—almost psychedelic, which capture the poet as he was—fascinating and fascinated, a relic of hippiedom. Nancy created a posthumous film about Groban under the nom de plume “Lee Groban’s Beard.” It is this sense of whimsy and eternal mirth that defines her work perfectly. And yet, in her computer-painted “Digital Mindset” series, there is a serious, high-art essence, with echoes of Gerhardt Richter’s scraped paintings. Some of her newer work is kaleidoscopic and well-organized. “Guide to Infinity” is a beautiful example of this style. Yet the postcard for this exhibition is a self-portrait with exuberant moiré effects shading her face. This defines Nancy Bechtol perfectly—she clearly loves to create, thinking way, way outside the box, and is fearless in her execution.
While these two artists are as different as possible in their disparate approaches to creating and in their choices of subject matter, what this exhibition makes clear is that they both have an absolute passion for the visual.
David Bechtol: “Through the Eyes of a Traveler” and Nancy Bechtol: “No Rain No Rainbows” at ARC Gallery, 1463 West Chicago. Through March 25.