Fred Becker

American , 1913 - 2004

Fred Becker was born in Oakland, California in 1913. He was raised in Hollywood and attended the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1931 to 1933. Becker came to New York to study architecture at New York University where he met Eugene Steinhif, with whom he also worked at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design.

It was Louis Lozowick who accepted Becker for the Works Progress Administration. On the W.P.A. from 1935 to 1939, first under Gustave von Groschwitz, then under Lynd Ward, Becker made etchings and wood engravings. Two prints by Becker, “John Henry’s Hand “ and “Jazz Monsters”, both of 1936, were the only W.P.A. prints in Alfred Barr’s “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936 and 1937. Work by Becker was shown in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and again, in the 1963/1964 Fair.

Becker’s first one-man show was at the Willard Gallery in New York in 1938. In 1940, he was in the inaugural class of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, the New School for Social Research in New York. Hayer, and the many other artists who attended the workshop, had a profound effect on the New York art world. In particular, Becker was intrigued by the possibilities of automatic writing, the various intaglio techniques and the new color printing methods. Artist friends from the Atelier included Ian Hugo, Andre Masson, Matta and Yves Tanguy.

Becker worked at Republic Aviation as part of the war effort. Although drafted in 1945, he actually served in China with the Office of War Information. Back in New York after the war, he worked at Atelier 17 until 1948. In the 1940s, Becker’s interest in abstraction resulted in a body of complex drawings and prints related to Constructivism. In these, the spatial environment is explored through webs and strands that are pulled, stretched and interwoven.

In the 1930s, Becker had a quirky, often humorous drawing technique, usually made with a fine, delicate pencil line. In tumultuous years of the 1940s, this evolved into a Surrealism strongly grounded in the lessons learned at Atelier 17, and especially Constructivism. Throughout his career, Becker has continued to apply his technical expertise to his interest in experimentation and a curious, singular approach to subject matter.

Becker's teaching career began in the late 1940s. He taught at the Tyler School at Temple University in Philadelphia from 1946 to 1948, at Washington University in Saint Louis from 1948 to 1968 and at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1968 to 1986. He received a Tiffany Fellowship in 1948, a Yaddo residency in 1954. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1957/1958 enabled him to travel to Paris to work at the original Atelier 17. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1975.

Exhibitions include “Fred Becker: An Exhibition of Unique Woks on Paper, A 90th Birthday Celebration” and “Fred Becker: A Retrospective of Prints and Drawings, 1934 to 1999” at the Susan Teller Gallery in New York. In addition, retrospectives were held at the Herter Gallery at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Molloy College in Rockville Center, New York in 1999 and an Exhibition of Prints at the Union College in Schenectady, New York in 2002.
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