- Also known as
primary name: Becker, Fred
other name: Becker, Frederick G
- individual; printmaker; American (USA); Male
- Life dates
- Born in Oakland, California, the son of a silent film actor, Becker was brought up in Hollywood. After studying at the Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles from 1931 to 1933, he left the West Coast to study architecture at New York University in 1933, but finding architectural study too restrictive, he turned to drawing and printmaking instead. In 1935 Becker joined the Graphic Arts Division of the Works Project Administration, on the selection of Louis Lozowick, where he worked under Gustave von Groschwitz and then Lynd Ward. Becker was the only WPA/FAP printmaker included by Alfred Barr in his seminal exhibition 'Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1936. The prints selected were the wood-engravings Monster and John Henry's Hand, both made in1936. Following this exposure Becker was given his first one-man exhibition at the Marion Willard Gallery, New York, in 1938. His prints of this period were mostly white-line wood-engravings of Manhattan jazz 'dives' and nightclubs.
Becker's printmaking underwent a radical shift when he met S.W. Hayter in 1940 and began to work at Atelier 17, now re-established in New York, following Hayter's move from Paris shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War (see cat. 117). Becker was amongst Hayter's first American students and he later helped to print Hayter's work, such as Falling Figure (Black and Moorhead 178), 1947, a colour engraving with soft ground and scorper. Becker experimented with various intaglio techniques, including relief etching, open-bite aquatint and engraving at Atelier 17, where his fellow printmakers included the émigré artists André Masson, Roberto Matta and Yves Tanguy.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s Becker's style had become fully abstract, being composed of linear webs and filaments that were interwoven to suggest spatial depth. He also took up Hayter's innovations in simultaneous colour printing and placed increased emphasis upon surface textures, achieved either with the scorper or through different textiles pressed into soft ground.
From 1948 Becker taught at Washington University, St Louis, where he founded the printmaking department. He remained there for the next twenty years before taking up his final academic post at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1968 to 1986. A retrospective of his work was held by the Herter Gallery of the University of Massachusetts in 1999. He died in Amherst at the age of ninety in 2004.
The principal museum collections in New York all have prints by Becker, as does the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, which owns some thirty-one of his works.
- 'Fred Becker: Prints 1939-99', exh. cat., Amherst: Herter Gallery, University of Massachusetts, 1999
Obituary New York Times 12 July 2004
James Wechsler, 'Fred Becker and Experimental Printmaking', Print Quarterly, vol.10 no.4 (December 1993), pp.373-84.