Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Antonio Frasconi's "The House That Jack Built"

About a week ago I stumbled a used copy for sale of The House that Jack Built: La Maison Que Jacques A Batie, which is a picture book in English and French by Antonio Frasconi. It was selling for just almost nothing so I had to buy it, and yesterday my treasure arrived in the mail. The cover is rather beat up, and it appears to be a well-loved library copy, but the pages are in good shape and I haven't been able to stop staring at it all day. (Funny aside: my two kids who are ages 3 and 5 could care less.)

Frasconi's book illustrations exhibit every quality of woodcuts I love: using the wood's resistance for more expressive mark-making, using the grain to add organic textures, and a general economy of marks. As a picture book with words on most pages, the compositions are unexpected. In almost every spread the woodcuts bleed partially off the page, but in different ways each time. Only black, white, and three colors (magenta, green, and yellow) are used, but they take turns filling the large swaths of background areas. The main text of the rhyme discretely rests in the negative spaces, but the typography for the onomatopoeia of the dog's "Grrrs" and the church bell's "Ding Dongs"  is arranged as part of the visual imagery.

Just as with all of Frasconi's woodcuts I've encountered, the work seems so completely inspired. He makes it look so easy, as if these visual arrangements simply flow through him onto the block, then to the page. Looking at this work makes me want to run off to some isolated retreat and just make woodcuts for months.


  1. This does look really lovely--I would have definitely bought it too, and drooled over it as well.

  2. Lucky You. Thanks for posting the book pages.

  3. Lovely page. I have just posted on Frasconi. I really think the Caldecott medal is the highest honor an artist can get.