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, Los Angeles, 1931/33. Becker came to New York to study architecture at New York University; there he met Eugene Steinhof, 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 WPA from 1935 to 1939, first under Gustave von Groschwitz and then under Lynd Ward, he made etchings and wood engravings. Two prints by Becker, John Henry’s Hand, and Jazz Monsters, both of 1936, were the only WPA prints in Alfred Barr’s Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, 1936/37. Work by Becker was shown in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and again, in the 1963/64 Fair.

Becker’s first one-man show was at the Willard Gallery, NY, in 1938. In 1940 he was in the inaugural class of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, the New School for Social Research, NY. Hayter, and the many 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.

In 1941 Becker moved to Long Island and worked at Republic Aviation as part of the war effort. Although drafted in 1945, he 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.

Becker began teaching in the 1940s at the Tyler School, Philadelphia, before a 20-year stint at Washington University, St. Louis, and ending at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1986. He received a Tiffany Fellowship in 1948, a Yaddo stay in 1954, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 1957/58, and a National Endowment for the Arts Award, 1975. With the Guggenheim Fellowship, Becker traveled to Paris to work at the original Atelier 17.

Becker has had numerous exhibitions. These include retrospectives at the Herter Gallery, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Molloy College, Rockville Center, NY, 1999, and an Exhibition of Prints, Union College, and Schenectady, NY, January/February 2002. His work is included in Breaking Ground: Printmaking in the US, 1940-1960 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; (2016) and upcoming exhibitions celebrating the impact of Atelier 17 on 20th Century American Art at the Syracuse University Galleries (2016), Baltimore Museum of Art, (2017) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (2017).