Artist Profile: Ron Bechet

Much of painter Ron Bechet’s work plays along the fuzzy dichotomies between ideas, such as reality vs. illusion, organized religion vs. spirituality, and experience vs. identity. So maybe it’s not surprising that his roles of student and teacher are a little blurred as well.

While the accomplished New Orleans artist is chairman of the Xavier University art department, Bechet believes he learns as much about himself and his art while teaching as his students do in their own studies. Further, one of the biggest influences on his recent work is a fellow instructor at Xavier, the renowned sculptor John T. Scott with whom Bechet shares a studio. Bechet now paints many of his works on plywood that is bent, cut and molded into undulating surfaces of color. 

Bechet describes art in terms of a language that can communicate abstract ideas, something that gets to relationships and layers of meaning and context in a non-linear way.

“Doorway to Assurance”
PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of Ron Bechet

“There are questions I can’t answer, that’s why I paint,” Bechet says.

    Bechet is a native of New Orleans and a relative of the early jazz pioneer Sidney Bechet. He began drawing in the fourth grade, studied art at the University of New Orleans and went on to earn a graduate degree from Yale University. He returned to New Orleans for good in 1982 and soon began a career teaching art, first at Delgado Community College, then at Southern University in New Orleans and, since 1998, at Xavier.

The focus on his art in recent years has been trees and forest scenes that would look like home to anyone from southern Louisiana. But his paintings—often large and usually featuring what he describes as “bright, garish colors”—are never as simple as they appear. In a painting titled “Fecundity,” for instance, a forked tree strongly resembles the female form. In another, a tree appears to be a man with his head planted in the ground and his legs in the air.

“I love to play with these double entendres. For me, it’s like great blues or jazz,” he says.

Many of his recent pieces have interactive components. Some have functional doors that are initially displayed closed, with the intent of tempting viewers to open them, a challenge to ideas of authority. This is another sculptural element he credits to working with his colleague Scott.

 “Trees are a central image for me, but art doesn’t need to be faithful to nature,” says Bechet. “If it’s true to the artist’s own experience, that’s more important, that gets to the storytelling behind art.”

You can see Ron Bechet’s work at an exhibit, “Resisting Tranquility,” until April 7 at Loyola University’s Collins C. Diboll Gallery.

Categories: Artist Profile