Current Exhibition

FRED BECKER

A Retrospective from the WPA to the Millennium

October 3 - November 17, 2014

Opening Reception on October 19 

Fred Becker (1913- 2004), a well-known American artist and printmaker, will be featured in an exhibit in the newly renovated gallery at The Umbrella.

Fred Becker, son of a silent film star, was born in Oakland, California on August 5, 1913. After studying at the Otis Art Institute from 1931-1933, he moved to New York to study architecture at New York University. Ultimately, he abandoned those plans to follow a favored instructor to the Beaux Arts Institute, where he indulged his passion for drawing and printmaking.

His nightly visits to the city’s jazz clubs lead him to create an extensive portfolio of drawings illustrating the clients and musicians of the popular New York jazz scene. Impressed, Louis Lozowick signed Becker up for the Graphic Arts Division of the Works Progress Administration, where he worked from 1935- 1939. Constructivism, an art form in which industrial Age materials are used to create abstract art incorporating functional and utilitarian subjects, dominated his themes.

In 1940, S.W. Hayter, considered one of the most significant printmakers of the 20th Century, moved his Atelier 17 Workshop from Paris to New York, bringing with him several avant-garde European artists and the influence of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. At Atelier 17, Becker, working in a collegial atmosphere, explored his passion for innovation and the use of color in printmaking. This important venue gave rise to American fine art printmakers including, among others, Becker’s contemporaries, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and William de Kooning.

With the intervention of World War II, Becker, with his first wife, Eleanor Lawrence and son, Anton, moved to Long Island, where he worked at Republic Aviation as part of the war effort prior serving in China. After the war, he returned to Atelier 17, creating complex prints reflecting his innovative intaglio techniques and began his career as a teacher.

In 1946, Becker accepted a teaching job at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Two years later he moved to St. Louis, where he established the Printmaking Department at Washington University and continued to experiment with color and new printing techniques. He received a Tiffany Fellowship in 1948, a Yaddo stay in 1954, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1957/1958.

While at Yaddo, Becker and his wife, the artist Jean Morrison, gave birth to their daughter, Carla. Carla was the first child to be born at Yaddo, as children were not permitted. Becker had met Morrison, originally, at Atelier 17.

In 1968, Becker moved to Amherst, MA, where he taught at the University of Massachusetts until retiring from teaching in 1986. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1975. Becker continued to work at his art until his death in 2004.

The Umbrella is honored to present this exciting way to explore the history of Fine Art Printmaking in America with an artist who was involved at its inception.

Becker’s work is included in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, The Smithsonian and a multitude of other highly regarded institutions.