Cafeteria Still Life

Fred Becker

Frederick G. Becker was born in Oakland, Calif., in 1913 and grew up in Hollywood, where his father, Frederick Becker Sr., was an actor in silent films. After study at the Otis Art Institute, the young Becker moved to New York in 1933 to study architecture at New York University only to abandoned his studies for the freer mediums of drawing and printmaking. Drafted during World War II, he returned to civilian life in 1946 and taught at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. In 1948 he established the printmaking department for Washington University in St. Louis where he taught for 20 years before going to the University of Massachusetts.

Fred Becker’s career began in the 1930s with quirky and lively characterizations of musicians at the Manhattan jazz clubs and street scenes, done with a Surrealist touch.

In 1935, he was accepted by the Graphic Arts Division of the Federal Art Project administered by the Works Project Administration. His etchings and wood engravings were the feature in his first one-man show at the Marion Willard Gallery in 1938. In 1940 he was drawn to Atelier 17, the workshop established by the British engraver Stanley William Hayter. There Becker turned to abstraction, developing technical expertise while using various intaglio techniques and color printing methods developed by or with Hayter.

By the mid-1950s, his work evolved from Surrealism and Constructivism to a more gestural, Abstract Expressionist mode. Throughout the rest of his career he continued to join his technical proficiency with experimentation, and his approach to subject matter became highly individualistic.

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