Antonio Frasconi.
Argentine/American, 1919 - 2013

Frasconi illustrated more than 100 books, and his work is in the collections of most major museums in the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian. His woodcuts appeared on album and magazine covers, holiday cards, calendars and posters, and in exhibitions around the world. Several of his children's books won awards. In 1963 he designed a stamp to honor the centennial of the National Academy of Sciences.


Artist Statement

The 1952 Self Portrait was a celebration of a retrospective exhibit that I had at the Cleveland Museum, and as part of the exhibit I did a woodcut in a large edition for the Print Club of Cleveland. I thought that I should celebrate such an event with this self portrait surrounding by the woodcut: 'The Dog and the Crocodile' which was the one that they selected to distribute to their members. (It was part of a portfolio of 15 woodcuts I had done on 'Some Well Known Fables'). In the background there is a view of Washington Square where we lived.

AF
Essays

Antonio Frasconi, Woodcut Master, Dies at 93
By Douglas Martin
New York Times, January 2013

Antonio Frasconi

Frasconi in his studio in 1978

In 1953, Time magazine called Antonio Frasconi America’s foremost practitioner of the ancient art of the woodcut. Four decades later, Art Journal called him the best of his generation.


Antonio Frasconi

"What A Shout! Ben Harding"
by Antonio Frasconi
courtesy of the artist, Antonio Frasconi
Antonio Frasconi

"Bertolt Brecht"
by Antonio Frasconi




Mr. Frasconi did not reach this pinnacle by adhering to orthodoxies. He found inspiration in comic books as well as the old masters. He decried art education, saying the average student does not learn the pertinent questions, much less the answers. He abhorred art that dwelt on aesthetics at the expense of social problems. He repeatedly addressed war, racism and poverty, and devoted a decade to completing a series of woodcut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under a rightist military dictatorship in his home country, Uruguay, from 1973 to 1985.

"A sort of anger builds in you, so you try to spill it back in your work," he said in a 1994 interview with Americas, a magazine of the Organization of American States.

Mr. Frasconi, who died on Jan. 8 at 93, illustrated more than 100 books, and his work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian. His woodcuts appeared on album and magazine covers, holiday cards, calendars and posters, and in exhibitions around the world. Several of his children’s books won awards. In 1963 he designed a stamp to honor the centennial of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1968 he represented Uruguay at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting prints from 20 years of work.

Much of that work was done in the studio at his home in Norwalk, Conn., where the views of migrating birds and passing seasons from the window influenced his art. He built the house in 1957, and his son Miguel said he died there.

Mr. Frasconi’s was patient and meticulous in his art, which involves making an impression on paper from a design carved in a block of wood. Before producing a woodcut titled "Sunrise — Fulton Fish Market" in 1953, he spent three months wandering Lower Manhattan’s wharves and the holds of fishing boats. He spent hour upon hour studying "just how a man lifts a box," he said.

He then spent three weeks carving five wood blocks, each to apply a different color, as they are stamped successively on the same sheet of paper. He said the capricious nature of wood governed many artistic decisions. He loved the hands-on experience of working with wood, some of which he gathered from the beach in front of his home.

"Sometimes the wood gives you a break," he told Time in 1963, "and matches your conception of the way it is grained. But often you must surrender to the grain, find the movement of the scene, the mood of the work, in the way the grain runs."

Mr. Frasconi said he took up the art after being attracted to the idea of making multiple prints, in part so he could offer art to people at reasonable prices. The woodcuts of Paul Gauguin were an enormous influence, he said.

Antonio Rudolfo Frasconi was born to Italian immigrant parents on April 28, 1919, in Buenos Aires; a few weeks later his family moved to Uruguay. His father was frequently unemployed, and his mother worked in a restaurant and as a seamstress. He dropped out of art school at 12 because he was bored with copying from plaster casts of classical sculpture and became a printer’s apprentice. On his own, he made posters deriding Franco and Hitler, which he signed "Chico."

In 1945 he came to New York on a one-year scholarship to the Art Students League, and the next year he had a show at the Brooklyn Museum. After moving to California, he worked as a gardener and as a guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where he had an exhibition.

Returning to New York, he collaborated with the adapter Glenway Wescott and the book designer Joseph Blumenthal on "12 Fables of Aesop," which was published by the Museum of Modern Art and honored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts as one of the year’s 50 best books. He illustrated a poem by Federico García Lorca on the brutality of Franco’s police.

A later political work about the Vietnam War superimposed bombsights on terror-stricken peasants. He illustrated selections from the poems of Herman Melville to comment on the Ohio National Guard’s killing of students at Kent State University in 1970.

For many years Mr. Frasconi, a citizen of both Uruguay and the United States, taught at Purchase College of the State University of New York.

His first marriage, to Rene Farmer, ended in divorce. His second wife, Leona Pierce, a noted woodcut artist, died in 2002 after 50 years of marriage. In addition to his son Miguel, Mr. Frasconi is survived by another son, Pablo, and a granddaughter.

Some of Mr. Frasconi’s work was devilishly playful. His 1952 book, "The World Upside Down," pictured a bull butchering a human, a man in a bird cage while a bird cavorts outside, and a sheep herding a flock of humans. A dog sleeps in bed, while a man slumbers in a doghouse on the floor. A fire hydrant is nearby, apparently in case the man needs it.



Antonio Frasconi
From the exhibition catalogue, 1976

The course of American printmaking was greatly influenced by a few men who came o this country around the time of World War II. These included: Gabor Peterdi, Mauricio Lasansky, Boris Margo, Fritz Eichenburg and Antonio Frasconi. In this bicentennial year, the Haslem gallery is pleased to present an important retrospective exhibition of works by Antonio Frasconi. In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Frasconi has brought his mastery of the woodcut to a level of consummate skill.

To know Frasconi’s work is to know the man. His bold and beautiful prints breathe, they speak out, they convey life.

Frasconi was born in Buenos Aires in 1919 of Italian parents. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Montevideo. His interest in art began at an early age. Because of a great deal of political awareness in Uruguay, Frasconi drew political cartoons. When he was a teenager, his cartoons were published in Marcha, the Uruguayan weekly journal. Frasconi explains, in Latin American in my time, there was a tradition of woodcuts and linoleum cuts. Artists also did murals for the schools, book illustrations and posters. The sense was that an artist should function within his society and should be aware of and try to fulfill some of the needs of that society.

Frasconi was influenced by Daumier, William Gropper and George Grosz. One of his greatest desires was to come to the U.S. and study under Grosz who was teaching at the Art Students League. His wish never came true. By the time he arrived in America in 1945, Grosz had returned to Germany. Frasconi did, however, study at the Art Students League under Yasuo Kunioshi.

In 1946 Frasconi moved to California where he worked as a gardener and guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. This is the museum where he had his first one-man show. The show was followed shortly by another at the Brooklyn Museum of Art

Since that time, Frasconi has become an internationally known printmaker with works in the permanent collections of most of the major museums of the world.




Excerpts from Frasconi Against the Grain
Introduction by Nat Hentoff
Appreciation by Charles Parkhurst
Collier Macmillan, London, 1974

Hentoff discribes a wall in Frasconi’s studio: Whenever I come, I look to see what has been added to that wall – or rather to that kaleidoscope of Frasconi’s interests, enthusiasms, rages, and allegiances. Brigitte Bardot is there, and a photograph of the My Lai massacre. Mural paintings by an African tribe coexist with a landscape drawing by Van Gogh. Frasconi points to the Van Gogh. “There in those pen and ink drawings, you can see the struggle of this man. He uses the pen like a surgeon needling though the crust into the soil. In everything he sees there is a nervous system that makes things exist.” A portrait of a woman by Piero della Francesca is not far from a photograph of coolly sensuous Carla Bley, a jazz composer and pianist whose lines are simple, but with complex effects.

Hentoff views a table in the studio.  On a long, crowded table, looking out over the Sound, are Frasconi’s woodcutting tools and a pair of old binoculars for watching all the shore birds that settle on the marshlands. The tools look as if he’s had them for decades, which turns out to be the case. “They are plain tools,” Frasconi says. “You get them once, and they last a lifetime. Actually all I need for what I do is a knife, a piece of wood, and a table. The wood is from all kinds of places – leftovers in lumber yards, fruit crates from supermarkets, anything that comes to my hand.”





Biography

Antonio Frasconi, born to Italian parents on April 28, 1919 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, is one of the best known Latin American printmakers in both the Americas, Europe and Asia, where his work enriches principal collections, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C.

He studied painting and printmaking at the Círculo Artístico de Montevideo but soon abandoned painting for the print, gravitating toward the woodcut and the lithograph as his primary media. He moved to the United States with a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation in 1945 to study at the Art Students' League and, later, at the New School for Social Research.

By the early 1950s he was already recognized as one of America's foremost woodcut artists and since then has had an influential and revitalizing effect on the art of woodblock printing. By 1968 has was invited to represent Uruguay at the 34th Venice Biennial with a retrospective of his work.

He has supported mass-produced graphic art as a means to expose more people to artwork. His own work has been commissioned for advertising, magazine illustrations, record covers, Christmas cards, and a U.S. postage stamp.

His main focus has been on book illustration into which, like his contemporaries Ben Shahn and Lorenzo Homar, he integrates calligraphic text as part of the design of the print. His beautiful books, many of them for children, have helped introduce North America to the poetry of Lorca, Gabriela Mistral and Neruda and foment interest in the works of Whitman, Thoreau, Dylan Thomas and Poe.

In 1982 Frasconi was the Distinguished Teaching Professor of Visual Arts at the State University of New York at Purchase. His artistry was recognised by an award from the Guggenheim Foundation., 1953.

In 1959, Frasconi was unsuccessful when shortlisted for the Caldecott Medal for his book The House that Jack Built. However in 1971, when the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association devised the idea of a Caldecott Honor, they retrospectively awarded the new secondary prize to a number of books including Frasconi's book.

In 1962, Frasconi won a Horn Book Fanfare award for The Snow and the Sun - La Nieve y el Sol a book he had created in two languages. He has frequently produced multilingual books.

Frasconi's students have included Adrian Lee Kellard and Ron Rocco.

His major work took ten years to complete and is a series of woodcuts that illustrate "The Disappeared". The work illustrates real people who were tortured and killed in his home country of Uruguay. Frasconi was four years into this work when democracy was restored following the dictatorship of Juan María Bordaberry through to General Álvarez. Bordaberry, who came to power in 1973, was jailed for crimes against humanity. The dictatorships, which ended with the military rule by Álvarez, ended in 1985. The regimes resulted in the deaths of political prisoners and in 2009 those involved in the murders are still being arrested.

Ro Gallery

CV

born 1919, Buenos Aires Argentina
died 2013 New York City

education
1945 Art Students League, New York City

permanent collections
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston IL
Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester NH
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge MA
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Jersey City Museum, NJ
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg VA
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis MO
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Museum of the National Academy of Design, New York City
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Reviews

Lincoln Memorial, by Antonio Frasconi, on artline

Antonio Frasconi
Lincoln Memorial, 1956.


Lincoln's Fundamental Creed: Antonio Frasconi (1919-2013)

By Nancy Wallach
The Volunteer, March 2013



Antonio Frasconi, the great graphic artist, illustrator, teacher and humanitarian, created this woodcut of the Lincoln Memorial, which resides in the nation's capitol next to the famous words of the Gettysburg address, "That government, of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." He titled this 1956 work "The Fundamental Creed of Abraham Lincoln." It was a fundamental creed that expressed the ideals of the artist and the president's namesake, the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, as well. Just as the ALB defended the democratically elected government of Spain, Antonio Frasconi was an internationalist who used his artwork to raise his voice for social justice both in his adopted country, the United States, and in his various prints on Vietnam, Spain and Uruguay. In a Pratt Institute Printmaking Center catalog, Fritz Eichenberg referred to Frasconi as an artist "who embraces unpopular causes with uncommon compassion."


Antonio Frasconi, Guns, on artline

Antonio Frasconi
Guns, from Oda a Lorca, 1962.
Antonio Frasconi on artline

Antonio Frasconi
Franco III, from Oda a Lorca, 1962.


Words were very important to Frasconi. They not only inspired the woodcut of Lincoln, but appeared in portraits of his heroes, Walt Whitman, Goethe, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Sean O'Casey and Federico Garcia Lorca, artists who, like Frasconi, were engaged with the social issues of their times. These authors and their ideas were so important to him, that he often self-published folios of prints about them without waiting for a commission or contract.

Antonio Frasconi on artline

Antonio Frasconi
"The Disappeared" (1981-88).
In 1962, at a time when it was not popular to criticize Franco, Frasconi published Oda A Lorca, an illustrated book with fourteen lithographs. A fragment of text from the poem by the great republican poet Antonio Machado describes the murder of Lorca by the fascist Civil Guard. Frasconi's hand-designed font results in a page of great calligraphic beauty.

In "Guns," the artist leaves the barrels uninked, their horizontal negative spaces in sharp contrast to the thick black lines, almost daggers to the heart, on the body of Lorca. This alternation of text and visuals throughout the book builds to a strong emotional impact.

The last lithograph from the Oda a Lorca is one of three satirical portraits of Franco, in which Frasconi drew upon his early background as a political cartoonist. In the series, Franco is depicted from three vantage points, as if a camera were zooming in, going from a wide-angle view to a close up. In the first print Franco is seen from a distance, a lone figure against a stone wall, standing on the rubble of what is perhaps the civilization fascism has destroyed, a barren landscape suggesting disjointed limbs, military scrap metal and obsolete weapons. Is this the "collateral damage" of the dictatorship? The middle ground shot shown above zooms in to show that Franco's brittle armor seems to be made of barbed wire, bricks and straw, a portrait of an apprehensive man hiding behind the edifice of the church, his crown. Topped with bull's horns, it has a suggestion of the medieval, the antithesis of the forces for progress and enlightenment which Franco was suppressing.

In 1976, Frasconi's work was collected in the book Against the Grain a pun on his masterful use of wood in his prints as well as his tendency to go against the grain of the political powers. There is no better example of this than his work in Los Desaparecidos, an indictment of the 12-year military dictatorship in Uruguay, where the Argentine-born artist was raised. Frasconi considered this the culmination of his boyhood dreams of becoming a journalist -artist. In the work below the block of wood becomes as malleable as delicate lace, conveying the emotional state of the terrorized victims of the regime through body language, drapery folds and composition. Here he adroitly achieved his goal of utilizing aesthetic, formal concerns and technique to the greater purpose of serving the content, an expose of the brutality and human suffering under the Uruguayan dictatorship, which had the highest per capita percentage of political prisoners in the world. His subjects have the same common humanity and display the same universality of the human condition as those of another one of his influences, the German Expressionist Kathe Kollwitz.

Frasconi, this artist who has trained such an unflinching, laser sharp focus on the most troubling issues of our times, has said his work "celebrates the joy of living." His award winning children's illustrations infused classics such as Aesop's Fables or Pablo Neruda's Bestiary with freshly imagined imagery. He also pioneered bilingual language education and promoted the divergent thinking that is a byproduct with his book of first words in four languages, Look, See, Say. At a lecture given at the Library of Congress he said he wanted to "show that there are different ways to say the same thing, that there is more than one nation in our world…I discovered that my work could in some ways introduce a young mind to an understanding of our vast cultures." He was an educator to all age groups. Perhaps the "joy of living" he referred to came from the optimism engendered by an alignment with the future. His work reflects a lifetime of empathetic, insightful children's illustrations and celebrations of those heroes, like the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who furthered our progress, even at great sacrifice, with their courageous actions, words and ideas.



Antonio Frasconi, Woodcut Master, Dies at 93
by Douglas Martin, Jan. 21, 2013

In 1953, Time magazine called Antonio Frasconi America's foremost practitioner of the ancient art of the woodcut. Four decades later, Art Journal called him the best of his generation.

Mr. Frasconi did not reach this pinnacle by adhering to orthodoxies. He found inspiration in comic books as well as the old masters. He decried art education, saying the average student does not learn the pertinent questions, much less the answers. He abhorred art that dwelt on aesthetics at the expense of social problems. He repeatedly addressed war, racism and poverty, and devoted a decade to completing a series of woodcut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under a rightist military dictatorship in his home country, Uruguay, from 1973 to 1985.

"A sort of anger builds in you, so you try to spill it back in your work," he said in a 1994 interview with Americas, a magazine of the Organization of American States.

Mr. Frasconi, who died on Jan. 8 at 93, illustrated more than 100 books, and his work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian. His woodcuts appeared on album and magazine covers, holiday cards, calendars and posters, and in exhibitions around the world. Several of his children's books won awards. In 1963 he designed a stamp to honor the centennial of the National Academy of Sciences.

In 1968 he represented Uruguay at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting prints from 20 years of work.

Much of that work was done in the studio at his home in Norwalk, Conn., where the views of migrating birds and passing seasons from the window influenced his art. He built the house in 1957, and his son Miguel said he died there.



"What A Shout! Ben Harding" by Antonio Frasconi.
Credit

Mr. Frasconi's was patient and meticulous in his art, which involves making an impression on paper from a design carved in a block of wood. Before producing a woodcut titled "Sunrise — Fulton Fish Market" in 1953, he spent three months wandering Lower Manhattan's wharves and the holds of fishing boats. He spent hour upon hour studying "just how a man lifts a box," he said.

He then spent three weeks carving five wood blocks, each to apply a different color, as they are stamped successively on the same sheet of paper. He said the capricious nature of wood governed many artistic decisions. He loved the hands-on experience of working with wood, some of which he gathered from the beach in front of his home.

"Sometimes the wood gives you a break," he told Time in 1963, "and matches your conception of the way it is grained. But often you must surrender to the grain, find the movement of the scene, the mood of the work, in the way the grain runs."

Antonio Frasconi, artline

Mr. Frasconi said he took up the art after being attracted to the idea of making multiple prints, in part so he could offer art to people at reasonable prices. The woodcuts of Paul Gauguin were an enormous influence, he said.

Antonio Rudolfo Frasconi was born to Italian immigrant parents on April 28, 1919, in Buenos Aires; a few weeks later his family moved to Uruguay. His father was frequently unemployed, and his mother worked in a restaurant and as a seamstress. He dropped out of art school at 12 because he was bored with copying from plaster casts of classical sculpture and became a printer's apprentice. On his own, he made posters deriding Franco and Hitler, which he signed "Chico."

Antonio Frasconi, Bertolt Brecht, artline, review
"Bertolt Brecht" by Antonio Frasconi.

In 1945 he came to New York on a one-year scholarship to the Art Students League, and the next year he had a show at the Brooklyn Museum. After moving to California, he worked as a gardener and as a guard at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where he had an exhibition.

Returning to New York, he collaborated with the adapter Glenway Wescott and the book designer Joseph Blumenthal on "12 Fables of Aesop," which was published by the Museum of Modern Art and honored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts as one of the year's 50 best books. He illustrated a poem by Federico García Lorca on the brutality of Franco's police.

A later political work about the Vietnam War superimposed bombsights on terror-stricken peasants. He illustrated selections from the poems of Herman Melville to comment on the Ohio National Guard's killing of students at Kent State University in 1970.

For many years Mr. Frasconi, a citizen of both Uruguay and the United States, taught at Purchase College of the State University of New York.

His first marriage, to Rene Farmer, ended in divorce. His second wife, Leona Pierce, a noted woodcut artist, died in 2002 after 50 years of marriage. In addition to his son Miguel, Mr. Frasconi is survived by another son, Pablo, and a granddaughter.

Some of Mr. Frasconi's work was devilishly playful. His 1952 book, "The World Upside Down," pictured a bull butchering a human, a man in a bird cage while a bird cavorts outside, and a sheep herding a flock of humans. A dog sleeps in bed, while a man slumbers in a doghouse on the floor. A fire hydrant is nearby, apparently in case the man needs it.

Bibliography

Frasconi, Antonio, introduction by Nat Hentoff and an appreciation by Charles Parkhurst (1974). Frasconi Against the Grain. Collier Books, a division of MacMIllan , New York.

Frasconi, Antonio (1996). The Books of Antonio Frasconi: A Selection, 1945-1995. Grolier Club, New York.

Neruda, Pablo, illustrations by Antonio Frasconi (1965). Bestiary / Bestiario. Harcourt, Brace & World, New York.

Thoreau, Henry David, woodcuts by Antonio Frasconi (1965). A Vision of Thoreau. Spiral Press, New York.






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