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 Antonio Frasconi  (1919 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut / Uruguay      Known for: woodcuts, book illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of the artist.

"Antonio Frasconi, Woodcut Master, Dies at 93"
Published: January 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.

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.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An illustrator, painter and print maker, Antonio Frasconi would become best known for his book illustrations.  He was born in 1919 in Montevideo, Uruguay but spent most of his career in America where he worked in New York City and lived in Norwalk, Connecticut.

His parents had emigrated from Italy to Uruguay during World War I and Antonio Frasconi grew up in Montevideo.  By age twelve he was apprenticing at a local print makers, and soon thereafter began publishing his cartoons in satirical newspapers.  In the 1940s Frasconi began experimenting with woodcuts in the 1940s, and in 1945 he received a scholarship from the Art Students' League, and moved to New York to begin his formal education.  He also studied at the New School of Social Research.

By the 1950s he had become widely recognized as a leading graphic artist, especially in woodblock printing.  He married artist Leona Pierce in 1951, and in 1955 published See and Say, A Picture Book in Four Languages, for their son. Over the course of the next fifty years he would illustrate and design over 100 books including the poems of Langston Hughes: Let America be America Again and Pablo Neruda’s Bestiary/Bestiario; On the Slain Collegians, the images of America’s Vietnam, A Whitman Portrait and Twelve Fables of Aesop.

The dictatorship in Uruguay was long and hard, finally coming to an end in 1985, four years after the artist began work on his magnum opus, Los Desaparecidos, or The Disappeared, a series of woodcuts and monotypes.  Dark, graphically strong, and echoing the book format,  Frasconi’s art successfully portrays the horrors of torture, incarceration, and killing while specifically preserving the memory of real people.

Exhibitions included:
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1953 (Joseph Pennell Memorial  medal)
Venice Film Festival, 1960 and 1968 (Grand Prix)
Casa Americas, Havana, Cuba, 1965-68 (prize)
Art of the Americas, Yale University
Smithsonian Institution Institute
Whitney Museum of American Art

Annex Galleries
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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