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Antonio Frasconi; woodcut artist addressed war, racism

“The Arena,” a 1962 woodcut by Antonio Frasconi, was displayed at a Baltimore Museum of Art exhibition.

Antonio Frasconi

“The Arena,” a 1962 woodcut by Antonio Frasconi, was displayed at a Baltimore Museum of Art exhibition.

NEW YORK — 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.

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“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 Jan. 8 at age 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, cards, calendars, and posters.

In 1968 he represented Uruguay at Venice Biennale, showing prints from 20 years’ work.

Much of that work was done in the studio at his home in Norwalk, Conn., where the views of migrating birds and passing seasonsinfluenced his art. He built the house in 1957, and died there.

Mr. Frasconi was patient and meticulous in his art, which involves making an impression on paper from a design carved in wood. Before making a woodcut titled ‘‘Sunrise — Fulton Fish Market’’ in 1953, he spent three months wandering Manhattan’s wharves and the holds of boats.

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 loved the 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.’’

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