Biography by Anne-Marie van de Yen.
Richard Beck (1912-1985) was an English designer who trained and studied in England and Germany before coming to Australia. Born in Hampshire, England, in 1912 and educated at the Glasgow Academy and Sevenoaks School in Kent, the Slade School of Art in London and the Blocherer School in Munich, Richard Beck arrived in Australia in 1940 after leaving England for New Zealand in 1939.
In London, Beck had his own design consultancy service before the war where he earned a distinguished reputation as an artist and designer with poster and publicity designs for London Transport, Shell Mex Ltd and the Orient Line and for his illustrations in a number of English newspapers.
During the war, Beck served with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). In 1943 he married Joan Isaacson and they had four children: Jonathan, Angela, Vanessa and Christopher.
After the war, Beck established Richard Beck Associates, design consultants for advertising and industry, producing packaging. corporate image design, exhibition- and general advertising work. Beck also produced freelance design for several Melbourne advertising agencies including George Patterson, Patons Advertising Castle Jackson Advertising, and Walker Robertson, Maguire.
Throughout his career, Richard Beck sustained a keen interest in raising standards in typography, design for industry and commerce, posters and photography in Australia. In the early 1950s he was one of a group of Melbourne designers and illustrators (including Lance Stirling, Owen Foulkes, Eric Macguire, Joe Greenberg, Ron Thompson and Arthur Leydin) who met informally to discuss design and the design profession in the United Kingdom, Europe, America and Australia. At the group's wine and food gatherings, Beck introduced many of these designers to the Bauhaus and to the work of British poster artists like FHK Henrion, Abram Games and Hans Schleger (known as 'Zero').
His friends and colleagues included many leading Australian artists, architects, designers and photographers: Gordon Andrews, Douglas Annand, Arthur Baldwinson, Paul Beadle, Kevin Borland, Robin Boyd, Max Dupain, Max Forbes, Richard Haughton James, Elaine Haxton, Hal Missingham, Helmut Newton, Guelda Pyke, Wolfgang Sievers, Henry Talbot and Eric Thake.
During the 1950s, Richard Beck won many awards and prizes, particularly in the Outdoor Advertising Association of Australia and the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists Association's annual competitions and exhibitions. These competitions were designed to improve relations between artists, designers, commerce and industry.
Among the many other awards won throughout his career are the National Packaging Association's gold medal for the best Australian export pack of 1960 (awarded to S Wynn and Co Pty Ltd for the Coonawarra Claret bottle designed by Beck); prizes for his Neptune Service
Station, Glazebrook Paints and Shell 24 sheet outdoor advertising posters; runner-up award for his advertisement in the Architecture and Arts best full page magazine advertisement competition of 1954 and a bronze medal from the Italian Government at the International Stamp Congress in Milan for his Olympic
Games stamp design of 1956. In 1961, he was awarded the Australian National Packaging Association certificate for his designs for the Bell Chemical Company's plastic packages and in 1963 he was awarded the gold medal at the Royal Adelaide Exhibition for his complete range of Bell Chemical Company's containers that were later exhibited at the International Design Exhibition in Paris during 1963.
Richard Beck was also awarded a Certificate of Merit for outstanding excellence of work exhibited in the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists Association's exhibitions.
Beck's diverse range of design commissions included the design for Melbourne's first decorated tram during the Royal visit in 1954 and a number of stamps for Australia Post, including the centenary of the first Western Australian postage stamp in 1954, the Australian American Friendship stamp of 1955, Olympic Games publicity stamps between 1954 and 1956 and the 1971 Centenary of the Foundation of the Australian Native's Association stamp.
As well as being selected to design the official poster for the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 and to work with a panel in designing the street decorations for the city, Beck also contributed work to the Graphic Arts exhibition of the Arts Festival of Olympic Games.
Between 1963 and 1964, Beck was invited by the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Treasury to submit designs for Australia's new decimal banknotes and coinage.
Beck also contributed illustrations and cover designs for a number of notable
Australian journals including Art and Australia, Meanjin and the Australian
In 1958 Richard Beck was elected an Associate of the Industrial Design Institute of Australia. Along with Douglas Annand, he received the prestigious award of Fellow of the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists Association (ACIAA) for his outstanding excellence of work and notable contribution to the advancements of the interests of the profession. Beck was also an Honorary member of the Art Director's Club of Melbourne.
In 1969, Richard Beck was appointed Head of Graphic Design at the Prahran Technical College. He remained there until1972. He was also a visiting lecturer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
Richard Beck's work is represented in several local and international collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the London Transport Museum, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Art Gallery of Victoria, the Australian National Gallery, the National Library of Australia and the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney.
Anne-Marie van de Ven is a curator of Australian decorative arts & design at the
Powerhouse Museum. With thanks to the Trustees of the Museum of Applied Arts and Science.
Tribute to Richard Beck by Sir Joseph
I first became Richard's friend in England before the Second World War. Over a span of nearly half a century, some people's characters change. Richard's never did. He already had an international reputation as an artist and designer. He was modest. He remained modest throughout his life. He was unselfish. He was generous. He had a remarkable gift for friendship. He was without envy. He had high standards and a strong sense of professional responsibility.
He left only one major work unfinished; his last. In not finishing it, he did not break his professional record of never letting a client down. For a long time he had been taking photographs of his artist friends. He was shy about these photographs. I was privileged to be shown them, and I was deeply moved by what I saw; at the end of his life Richard was working on a testament of beauty and a testament of friendship.
I have mentioned that when I first met him, Richard had a distinguished reputation as an artist and designer. The occasion arose while gathering a collection of modern posters I had been asked to form for the Victoria and Albert
Museum in London (of which I was then an assistant keeper). This task led me to
France and Germany, to contacts in Sweden and Norway, and finally to Richard Beck. I did not go to him for advice, but to buy for the museum. I had found that his posters were well known and greatly admired a works of art not only by my colleagues and superiors in the museum, but in all five countries to which my enquiries had led me. Needless to say, this was not due to so modest a person as the artist who had designed them. It was due to the sensation caused on the continent by the achievement of Frank Pick who had brought together a brilliant team (one of whom was Richard Beck) to work on the architecture, design projects and posters of the new and redesigned stations of the London Passenger Transport Board, then regarded as a landmark in the history of the modern movement.
He was a big man, both in physique and character. Good news of his friends and especially their success gave him infinite pleasure. There is a Latin epitaph which is as memorable as it is short: Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit, 'He
touched nothing which he did not adorn'. Of Richard Beck as a designer it may be said, he touched nothing of which he did not raise the standard: standards in typography, in designs for industry and commerce, in photography and in his posters at a time when the design of posters was at its lowest ebb.
His contribution to the standards of his profession in this country was incalculable in its value. It is not only the loss to ourselves that we mourn but