The first surrealist exhibition at MOMA, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism which opened in December 1936 was a shock to the public. Two small wood engravings by Fred Becker made one year prior, while he was employed by the New York City Graphic Arts Division of the WPA Federal Art Project, hung alongside Picasso’s Minotauromachy (1935) and de Chirico’s 1911 masterpiece, Nostalgia of the Infinite. Fred Becker was 23 years old and in very good company.
He had a deep interest in jazz clubs, folk music, tall tales, urban life and human rights which fueled his imagery of the 1930s and early 40s. By the time this drawing was created, Becker had moved away from obvious representational elements in his work and was more interested in chance, abstraction, metamorphosis and drawing connections between shapes and symbols that might not normally go together. In this charcoal drawing, he hints at the neck of a guitar, a bare light bulb with two wild eyes. The jostled-looking composition suggests the instrument might be self-played.