Clifford Beck, Jr. (1946-1995)

Clifford Beck, Jr.

(1946 – 1995)

Clifford Beck, Jr. is regarded as a world renowned American Indian artist who worked in the mediums of oil and pastels.  He grew up on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northern Arizona where his father was a tribal councilman and his mother was a weaver.  Beck drew heavily upon his heritage in his work and credited impressionist Edgar Degas as his greatest influence.  He described his art as “semi-abstract and occasionally surrealistic.”  His paintings were respectful homages to traditional people whom he considered the foundation of his Navajo culture.

As a boy, Beck attended a boarding school in Holbrook but returned home every summer to help with the livestock.  After graduating from Flagstaff High School in 1963, he was determined to attend college.  Clifford was one of the first of his tribe to receive a tribal scholarship.  He attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, where he was drawn to anatomy and figure drawing.  During that time he met painter R.C. Gorman who gave him much encouragement and subsequently became a family friend.  He considered those years a period of incredible professional and personal growth.  During the summer months, Beck maintained cultural ties to the reservation and returned every year to work.  In fact, he illustrated for the Navajo Times in 1965.

Upon graduation in 1968, Beck designed materials for Indian Health Services in southern Arizona while simultaneously pursuing his professional fine art career; he was represented and sold at Tom Woodward’s trading post in Gallup, New Mexico.  In 1971, he was hired as an art instructor at the newly formed Navajo Community College where he taught design, advanced drawing and painting.  As commercial interest in Beck’s work accelerated, his work was exhibited and sold from 1975-1978 at R.C. Gorman’s Navajo Gallery in Taos, the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, the annual Scottsdale National Indian Arts Exhibition as well as the Heard Museum Indian Market.  By the late 1970s, Beck was a full time professional fine artist.

Beck’s earliest portraits were of relatives and later he expanded to his subject matter to include other tribes.  He portrayed people as they were – capturing a glimpse of a significant moment.  He typically painted older people whose worn faces showed difficult lives, but also reflected a heroic quality.

Clifford Beck, Jr.