Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lasting Impressions of Antonio Frasconi

January has been a cruel month thus far. This past weekend I learned about the great loss of legendary artist, Antonio Frasconi, who died January 8th at the age of 93 at his home in Norwalk, Connecticut. Frasconi had a long and prestigious career as one of the America's greatest printmakers. Working primarily in wood, he illustrated over 100 books, album covers, Christmas cards, magazine illustrations and even a US postage stamp. Largely self-taught, he found inspiration in comic books as well as the works of German Expressionist artists, Jose Posada and Japanese artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. According to Douglas Martin who wrote his obituary in The New York Times, "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 rightest military dictatorship in his home country, Uruguay, from 1973 to 1985."
     Frasconi was born in 1919 in Argentina to Italian immigrant parents, raised in Uruguay, and moved to New York to study at the Art Students' League in 1945. He loved to draw and paint, but often complained it took too long for the colors to dry. Over the course of the next sixty years he became a master woodcut artist and 
developed a keen sensitivity to the slightest variations in the grain of the wood. He preferred to print his work by hand, using a spoon and a baren, as he felt a machine was no match for the sensitivity of the hand and the intricacies of the ink and paper.
Catalog cover for a 1967 exhibit at Galería Colibrí in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The image at top of post is from a collection of 316 silkscreened posters of well-respected Puerto Rican artists whose work represented significant cultural, social and political events that occurred on the island from 1952 to 1985. Frasconi designed many posters for his own exhibits alongside the master Puerto Rican artist Lorenzo Homar.  

A beautiful woodcut print, titled The Bird in Art, a common theme of Frasconi's. This signed 18x24" poster is currently for sale on eBay. Below is a copy of Frasconi's accordion book, Kaleidoscope featuring his printed works up to 1968. Published by Harcourt, Brace & World in order to celebrate Frasconi's selection by Uruguay to represent them in the 34th Biennale in Venice in 1968. Originally posted on eBay, but has since sold. 

Frasconi's cover illustration for the 1962 edition of Graphis magazine, celebrating the 100th issue. Also currently on eBay

The three Frasconi woodcut works above are the cover, an interior spread, and title page of Bestiary/Bestiario, a poem by Pablo Neruda. This particular copy from Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc. was from an edition of 300 printed at The Spiral Press in 1965 under the supervision of Joseph Blumenthal and signed by each. It has previously sold. A larger 1965 edition of 3500 copies printed by The Spiral Press was published simultaneously by Harcourt, Brace & World. These copies are less scarce. 
     Frasconi had a deep love for the book and the printed page, but he was equally devoted to lettering. Many of his woodcuts invariably incorporate hand-lettered text in some fashion. This image from one of my earlier posts is one extreme. 
     Some of Frasconi's commercially produced childrens' books published by Harcourt, Brace and World, can still be found in used bookstores occasionally. Despite the printing quality, they are exquisite examples of his artistry. Below are two favorite examples from my own collection, The Snow and the Sun, a graphic interpretation of a popular South American folktale published in 1961, and See Again, Say Again, published in 1964 as a companion to his earlier work, See and Say. Antonio Frasconi had a very illustrative career, and we are fortunate he has left us with so many lasting impressions. 


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  2. He was our beloved woodcut professor at SUNY Purchase, influenced many generations. He was a lovely man, with a great sense of humor, always a sparkle in his eye. I feel so lucky to have studied with him!!

    1. I never had the good fortune to meet him, but he was one of my favorite artists. His artistic talents are unequaled, and I treasure every book of his I own. You are so very lucky to have known and studied with him. Thank you for sharing your story!


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