William Beckman was born in Maynard, Minnesota in 1942 and, after completing his undergraduate studies in his native state, studied art at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, receiving MA and MFA degrees in 1968. He began his New York exhibition career in a group show focused on Iowa in 1968 and soon attracted the attention of Allan Stone. At Allan Stone Gallery, Beckman held his first one-person exhibition in 1970, and then five additional solo shows through 1980. Beckman’s striking portrait and landscape works were included in the landmark exhibition Contemporary American Realism Since 1960, organized in 1981 by Frank Goodyear at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, had immediate and lasting impact.
Like Richard Estes, Chuck Close, and others of his generation, Beckman painted hyperrealist scenes. While Estes focused on the urban scene and Close on the portrait, Beckman created settings for the figure. The subjects – whether himself, his mother, his lover, or landscapes – are bared frontally to the viewer with gripping details and without embellishment. Over months, or even a year, Beckman used a unique method: after applying paint to create his landscape, he then shaved off layers from the surface with a razor, repainting and polishing the planes to create a lustrous, unvarnished surface with a glowing and absorbing image.