(1889 - 1975)
Maurice Becker was active/lived in New York / Mexico. Maurice Becker is known for political themed genre and figure painting, cartoons.
Biography from the Archives of askART
Maurice Becker, painter, political cartoonist and social reformer, was born in 1889 either in Gorky or Niznij Novgorod, in Russia. His family came to the United States in 1892, to New York City. After high school, Becker worked in a clothing factory. He studied with Ash Can School artist Robert Henri in 1908, and exhibited in the famous 1913 Armory Show in New York City when he was only twenty-four years of age.
Biography from Rachael Cozad Fine Art
At the Armory show, Becker showed a drawing of a dog's head, sketched in charcoal on a sheet of newspaper. But he became known for black and white drawings expressing his intense feelings about what he saw as injustices in America, and with the advent of World War I, his strong anti-war position. These drawings appeared in left-wing publications like The Daily Worker, The Masses, Liberator, and New Solidarity.
Becker knew artist John Sloan, who was editor of The Masses, so Sloan published drawings such as Becker's Ammunition in the June 1914 issue depicting human beings being shot from cannons. His drawing of a wounded soldier in bed being told by a nurse, "Don't be discouraged. The doctor says you'll be back on the firing line in a week," appeared in The Masses in December 1914.
A pacifist belonging to the American Union Against Militarism, Becker was sentenced to twenty-five years at hard labor when the United States entered the War and Becker was drafted and refused to fight. He was released in 1919 when Woodrow Wilson declared an amnesty for conscientious objectors.
Becker was a supporter of Women's Suffrage with drawings such as They Ain't Our Equals Yet! depicting gross characters of American capitalism. His Americanizing the Alien, from the January 1920 issue of New Solidarity has Uncle Sam transferring a new brain to a man with the top of his skull hinged back.
Becker lived for a number of years in Mexico where he continued to produce political cartoons while emphasizing his painting. Florence, a small oil painted in 1932, is a loosely brushed, intense characterization of a young woman wearing a hat.
Maurice Becker died in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1975.
There are extensive bibliographical listings and books of drawings by Maurice Becker online and in the library of Michigan State University, East Lansing at http://www.lib.msu.edu/comics/rri/brri/beck.htm.
Art and Politics by Richard Fitzgerald, published in 1973 by Greenwood Press, evaluates the work of Maurice Becker and four other politically oriented artists like K.R. Chamberlain, Robert Minor, John Sloan and Art Young.
Maurice Becker (Russian-born American, 1889-1975)
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Maurice Becker, a radical social reformer and prolific painter, is most well-known for his political cartoons from the 1910s-20s, and for American socialist publications including The Masses and The Liberator. Born in Nijni-Novgorod, Russia, Becker, the son of Jewish parents, emigrated with his family in 1892 to the Jewish community of the Lower East Side in New York City. His older sister, Helen Tamiris is known as a pioneer of modern dance, and his brother, Sam Becker, was a sculptor.
Becker was educated in the New York public schools, and after graduating high school, worked in a clothing factory. He also took night classes in bookkeeping and art and later honed his skills as a sign painter. From 1908-15, Becker studied with the influential Ashcan artist Robert Henri at the Art Students League. (His painting studies took place at night so that he could hold down a variety of odd day jobs.) At the young age of 24, Becker exhibited alongside celebrated artists such as Picasso, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Braque and Van Gogh at the famous Armory Show in 1913.
Around this time, Becker’s work became more infused with political and social activism, and he joined other foreign-born artists objecting to social injustices of the time including Russian-born brothers Raphael and Moses Soyer, David Burliuk, and Ben Shahn. From 1911-20, Becker was most recognized for his black-and-white political drawings and cartoons which he would contribute to numerous left-wing periodicals such as The Daily Worker, The Toiler, and Revolt, among others. He was also on the art staffs of the New York Tribune and the New York Call, and in 1917 was commissioned by the Scripps Newspaper Association as an artist-correspondent to the newly purchased Virgin Islands.
In 1918, Becker married the active Socialist Dorothy Baldwin. Later that same year, Becker became a conscientious objector to America’s involvement in World War I and fled to Mexico to avoid the draft. He was arrested upon his return to the United States in 1919 and was sentenced to 25 years of hard labor at Ft. Leavenworth. (However, after serving 4 months, Becker was released when President Wilson declared amnesty for conscientious objectors.) From 1921-1923, Becker returned to Mexico where he worked as an artist for an English-language magazine while also devoting most of his time to painting.
Through his lifetime, Becker remained a strong anti-war advocate in opposition to American capitalism, and an active member of the Communist Party USA and the communist run organization, Artist’s Front to Win the War.
Becker’s varied subjects represent his Socialist political views as well as his extensive travels in the United States and Mexico. He had solo shows in New York at the Whitney Museum, 1916; the J.B. Neumann Gallery, 1924-31; the Whitney Studio Club, 1924-28; the Delphic Studios, 1930; the New School for Social Research, 1932; and at the Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Murals by American Painters and Photographers,” 1932. His works were also exhibited at the MacBeth Gallery, New York, 1942-1945; the John Heller Gallery, New York, 1951; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Academy of Design; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and others.
Becker’s work can be found in several notable museum collections including the New York Historical Society; the Philadelphia Historical Society; the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia; the Ringling Museum, Sarasota, Florida; the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, the University of Michigan, the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; as well as a large mural for the AFL-CIO, Local 65 (The American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations).
Becker appeared in the 1970-1971 edition of Who’s Who in America and he was the recipient of an American Federation Arts Award.
He died in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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