September 9, 2011

Antonio Frasconi's Wood Block Prints

        Antonio Frasconi (born 1919) was raised in Uruguay and moved to the USA in 1945.  He worked as a gardener and as a guard at an art museum, where he went on to have his first show of his wood block prints.  (Does that mean I can expect a show at the Cleveland Museum of Art where I worked one summer as a security guard?  Oh,
how I wish!)
        Frasconi has illustrated quite a few books, including a number of bilingual children's books, which is where I had seen his work first.  In the children's books his pictures often include blocks of flat color that I don't like so well, so I was delighted when I started looking up more of his work and found that he also does lots of black and white that I really love.
        In stark contrast to the children's book illustrations, Frasconi has also done a fair bit of work that's very political, including a series of portraits of "The Disappeared" victims of dictatorships in Uruguay.  In fact, Frasconi's work shows a
range of subject matter that I find fascinating: the murder victims of "The Disappeared," animals, architecture, fables, portraits, and more.  For example, his "Migration" pieces are really interesting.  There are other pieces that I find much more pleasing, but I think it's cool that Frasconi chose the wheeling flocks of birds as his subject, and I admire the patience it must have taken to carve.  But regardless of the variety of subjects, Frasconi's style always emphasizes the look of the wood.
        Look how the grain of the wood is visible in this piece.  I love the interplay between the lines of the wood grain and the carved lines of the bricks.  I love that Frasconi didn't try to hide the wood grain, or smooth it away, or fight it, but instead let it enrich the texture of the old building.  A 1974 book of his work is called Against the Grain, but I don't think that's the right title at all.  I know they were trying to be clever, but what I find so wonderful is how well Frasconi cooperates with the grain.
        I think my favorite pieces by Frasconi are the architectural ones, (including the strangely beautiful oil rigs above).  Something about his rough yet warm style seems really suited to capturing the geometry of human-built structures, yet imbuing them with a touch of life and humor that makes them seem truly human.

[Pictures:  Offshore Oil, wood block print by Antonio Frasconi, 1953;
   Frog from Bestiary/Bestiario by Pablo Neruda, wood block print by Frasconi, 1965;
   Migration No.3, wood block print by Frasconi, 1959;
   from The Fulton Fish Market, wood block print by Frasconi, 1953;
   San Miniato, I and II, Firenze, wood block prints by Frasconi, 1967;
   Portrait of Albert Einstein, wood block print by Frasconi, 1952.
(Several of these images were scanned from Frasconi: Against the Grain, Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1974.)]


Anonymous said...

Okay Ms Blogger --
you've captured me with this Frasconi post. I agree that his stuff is riveting. Such a wide variety of subjects, so many of them handled with taste and skill. From your own site I notice a similar catholicity of interests and I particularly enjoy your own architectural/industrial themes. Who knows, maybe the Cleveland Museum of Art is lurking in the shadows. Let's hope so.
The Aging Wordsmith

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Well, if I ever get a show at the the Cleveland Museum of Art, I will be sure to announce it here! =D