Frederick G. Becker was born in Oakland, California on August 5, 1913. The son of silent film actor Fred Becker, Sr., he was raised in Los Angeles, surrounded by movie and theater creatives. Drawing was a passion for the younger Becker, and in high school he was the primary illustrator and cartoonist for his school's paper, developing his skills as an illustrator and cartoonist. His formal art studies commenced at the Otis Art Institute in 1931, where he was first introduced to printmaking. In the fall of 1933, Becker relocated to New York and registered at New York University in architectural studies. Eugene Steinhof, an instructor at NYU, played an important role in Becker's early development as an artist. Becker enrolled in Steinhof's class on form and color and became transfixed by his talents and worldliness. Discovering that architecture was not his calling, Becker transferred to Steinhof's classes at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design on 44th Street.
This artistic freedom is visible in the caricatures of jazz musicians produced by Becker during nightly visits to jazz clubs, particularly Adrian's Tap Room in the basement of the President Hotel. In his article, "The WPA Federal Art Project, New York City: A Reminiscence," Becker states: "During my first visits to the place, I drew caricatures of some of the musicians and Adrian asked me to come in regularly and draw caricatures of the customers. He didn't have to ask twice." Louis Lozowick, impressed by this imagery and the young artist's tenacity, signed Becker up for the Graphic Arts Division of the WPA. Becker worked in the WPA between 1935 and the day he was "laid off" of the project in the summer of 1939. An exhibition in 1937 at the Federal Art Project Gallery in New York included two of his prints and the following year his work was exhibited at the Willard Gallery in New York.
When Stanley William Hayter relocated his famous Atelier 17 to New York in 1940 as the war expanded, Becker was among the first to sign up for classes. He found there another free, informal and imaginative place to learn and work; however, with the entry of the US into the war in 1941, Becker left the city, relocated to Long Island and found employment in the war industry until he was drafted into the military in 1945. Returning from the war in 1946, Becker accepted a teaching position at Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Philadelphia. After two years, he moved to Saint Louis where he joined the faculty of Washington University and established their printmaking department.
Becker's first fellowship was a Tiffany in 1948, followed by a Yaddo in 1954. A Guggenheim fellowship in 1957 allowed him to travel to Paris and work again with Hayter at Atelier 17. Numerous retrospective exhibitions, his inclusion in the seminal exhibition "A Spectrum of Innovation: Color in American Printmaking", and James Wechsler's prize winning article, "Fred Becker and Experimental Printmaking," have paid tribute to Becker's innovative images and printmaking techniques.
Fred Becker's work is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Asheville Art Museum, the Kemper Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Johnson Museum of Art, and the Davis Museum at Wellesley College.
Fred Becker died in Amhurst, Massachusetts on June 30, 2004.