Roger Vieillard is one of France’s leading engravers. Born in 1907, he had served as an Army meteorologist in North Africa, experimented with wire sculpture and established himself as a banker before he learned the art of copper engraving at W. S. Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris in the mid-thirties. He quickly achieved recognition after the war for his illustrations of books of poetry and philosophy (Rimbaud, Descartes, Ecclesiastes, Sophocles, among others). His precisely controlled and resourceful technique was used sensitively in widely varying styles and moods: fantasies bordering on surrealism, geometric constructions, figurative symbols expressing human aloneness, pretension, aspiration. His 14 illustrated books and many independent engravings are now highly valued by collectors and his work has been shown all over Europe.
Vieillard’s latest work is a series of 12 engravings called Elements. Prefaced by a selection from Empedocles, they were done after two trips to Italy where study of the mosiacs and statues of Roman and Doric antiquity had led him to begin a new phase of his art. Eliminating all spatial depth, all direct human involvement, he does not portray the physical appearance of the elements but tries to interpret the fundamental rhythms and structure of natural forces as they gather, move and subside in the world. Like a composer varying a chosen group of chords, Vieillard uses minutely engraved sets of basic patterns (some are engraved larger at left) which run throughout the series and impart to it a unity which reflects the theme of Empedocles’ text: “...Only in the measure that the Many is born from the One and resolved in it are the elements mortal...”