Christian SKIMAO , Art Critics and Author
FRANCOIS VIGORIE OR THE LANCER OF THE IMMATERIAL
The works of François Vigorie is based on a polymorphic practice of glass sculpture which has sometimes eclipsed the main part of his procedure: the research into movement using effects of light.
Situated in this narrow field of research on volumes, opting resolutely for a contemporary artistic conception, he has imposed his own aesthetic vision through his sand-blasting technique, used in craftsmanship and industry.
Indeed, this particular type of engraving on a glass support appeared in around 1880 and was mainly used for decoration. Born in 1953in Gironde, François Vigorie later went to Paris where he studied for two years at an engineering school; he then worked for a craftsman where he perfected the basic techniques of this new practice.
He started by sand-blast engraving in flat tint, before changing to thicker materials, exploiting the reliefs, the hollows and the bumps, redeploying all the knowledge of sculpture by means of this future graver. The discovery of stained-glass in neglected Breton churches during his walks in the 70’s prove his deep interest in glass and its derivatives.
Birth of a passion and a vocation. Since 1996, his studio is in Corrèze. In 1982, during a collective exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, he discovers the works of an extremely promising German artist, Juna Cuny (who has died accidentally since). She also practiced since 1975 this approach to sculpture using sand blasting. The two artists worked on their own, ignoring what the other was doing, situating themselves in a certain precedence by using this technique in the domain of sculpture.
The principle of François Vigorie’s plastic approach was revealed in 1978. He carried out transparent sculpture by direct cutting. Due to its rapid execution, he could neither regret, nor hesitate nor make mistakes of any kind. He draws directly on the material and works in reverse, that is to say that he operates upside-down to obtain a shape the right way up. This effect of two-way movement which can be read on many different levels, incessantly mobile, sets off the invisible effects of the sculpture, the light changing indefinitely the view points. This vision in three or four dimensions (height, length, width, depth) complicates singularly the final result.
What remains hidden (“the main part is invisible to the eye”) can appear depending on the lighting or the movement of the spectator. Sometimes only the motif appears, at other times abstract spectrums possess an ephemeral existence.
The existence of an inner layer and an outer layer confirm Janus’s position. His mysterious pieces remain a mystery, enigmatic and poetic. A paradoxical relationship establishes itself between the massiveness of a block of industrial glass and the immateriality of certain shapes perceived inside it. The birth of this virtual universe (tormented volutes, bands of mist, translucent lava flows, gaseous wisps of smoke, vague fogs, unreal swirls, gossamer clouds, tender stripes, languorous grooves, Olympian claw marks etc.) transcend the plain exterior aspect.
The interior then possesses a truth which extricates itself from the constraints of the material; the exterior hollows are often only used to prepare the interior search for transparency and luminous effects.
Whilst some sculptures possess more anthropomorphous shapes than others, the volumes are usually abstract. His work on sheets of glass concerns a vertical plastic expression, in the domain of frescoes, evoking inversed bas-reliefs. The various textures of the glass enable him to create different motifs, becoming floral, aquatic or mineral. Some mini-frescoes in circular or geometrical shapes of variable dimensions are supported by metal legs enabling them to stand vertically. Concerning their realization, the first motif can be destroyed to obtain another; this approach by strata enables him to attain the final motif.
François Vigorie also experiments on other materials such as marble, wood or aluminium. Marble treated alone, presents very thin layers compared with traditional sculpture with scope for voids and voluntary perforations which define a recurring writing. Rapid abrasion changes the order as transparency is not completely workable. Some sculptures are a mixture of glass and marble, complementary materials which open new, fairly audacious combinations. Since 1976, he explores flat tint engraving and gold leaf, establishing a relationship with time, miniature and the icone. These works, meticulous and sometimes even manneristic, which could have been carried out a century and half ago, evoke nostalgic and surreal universes.
With regard to the genesis of the work, there are few artistic references apart from the discovery of paintings by Jean Hélion and the support of Juliette Man Ray. François Vigorie declares:” I have no exterior view”, but remains fascinated by the glistening of ice, the movement of the sea, the iridescence of lakes, in short, the aquatic environment and its multiple seasonal variations. These references belong to his early childhood in the country and join those of the Japanese with regard to their landscapes, integrating the concept of nature in a cultural and aesthetical. By situating him in the history of art, Gérard Xuriguera establishes a correspondence with the research of Naum Gabo (abolition of volume in favour of active voids and the use of transparent materials). We can also mention those of his brother Antoine Peysner.
Another facet of François Vigorie activities, less known, concerns his interventions in the architectural milieux. Various projects are under way, including that of the Ritz Hotel, where he is completely re-creating an entrance to the swimming pool situated inside the hotel and called the Atrium. It will comprise a large circular counter of about seven metres in diameter, some displays, a bar and side entrances. A central sculpture in the shape of a column will occupy the centre and the whole will be composed of frescoes with aquatic motifs carried out on panels of sculpted glass.
More confidentially, for the moment, a project with Agence Decaris for the transformation of an old abbey into a library. His intervention takes into account the movements of the sun and the angles of the motifs of the glass sheet. The interaction of these will lead to a mobile sculpture, giving the illusion of a gradually modified movement with the appearance and disappearance of the shapes. Coloured glass, tubes of Plexiglass or telescope lenses signifying cones of light, can be introduced into this mobile space, here or on other sites.
Clearly François Vigorie seeks difficulties and tries to overcome them. The dazzle provoked by the illusion of a movement paradoxically immobile, sealed in the thickness of the glass, establishes a parallel with the floating image of a ship blocked in ice. The matter, twisted, folded and compressed, submits itself to strength of the mind.
The artist plays with the artificial boundaries of the different arts and prints his conceptual trace in a block of a facets.
Michel Peyramaure – Author and French Novelist
Often as I wandered across the lonely plateau of Xantrie in Corrèze, I happened to reflect upon the astonishment of the Neolithic sheperds in the village of Sermus when they saw their ramparts had taken a strange appearance and consistency after being vitrified by the heat of a forest fire. Nature had just invented glass; It was up to man to make the most of this discovery. This is how the first artists in Sumer were able to gaze at the great Mesopotamian ziggourats through the transparency of a glass goblet.
François Vigorie whose works are on display, is more than a “glass artist”. He is a master of light. He tames it, encloses it within strict boundaries as in an aquarium; In this light, he animates subtle anamorphoses and dreamlike forms.
Glass work is the only art which solicits a total response by the eye. Viewers can merely glance at paintings, or sculptures, made out of wood or stone, whereas the viewers penetrate the works of François Vigorie. They take us as it were by the hand to lead us to the very core of living matter, towards that G spot where emotion surges.
Amazed and disturbed by these new potentialities, the “spectator” is confronted by a magical process whereby in spite of the mystery, everything is concrete, legible, and open to the diverse interpretations that each of us can bring.
François Vigorie, a master of light? Of course, but he is also a master of an art which goes much further than this cursory definition. These cubic shapes, broken by fractures in the external surfaces, these depths through which one expects the artist to appear in his space suit wilding his light sabres, are something other and better than a game. The fourth dimension, altogether spatial and temporal, opens the door to movement and thus to time. Thanks to François Vigorie, Nature can have her moods.
The artist invites us to acknowledge that man needs the transparency glass provides: beyond trapping and mastering light, transparency increases the capacities of the eye, widens the field of vision, and celebrates the union of the artist and matter in a crystal marriage.
Gérard XURIGUERA Critics and Art Historian
François Vigorie’sculptures are created in a know space which to him accompanies figurative space. He does not use wood, bronze, stone, metal, or synthetic resins, but prefers glass which is a less used material.
In the filiation of experiments on transparency introduced by Naum Gabo, he offers us a succession of pure, crystal-clear metamorphoses, carved out of a rather difficult material which invites the imaginary through the interplay of its sensual and often analogical shapes.
Although the harmoniously chiselled figures appear to be primitive, recalling pre Columbian iconography, the real and abstract are not in opposition, but maintain a well-balanced dialogue.
Thus the preciousness of the material is delicately penetrated. The successive stratas are carved from the inside by means of an astonishing erosion which remains the artist’s secret.
This technique produces a soft luminosity which covers the surface contours, filters into the infractuosities, producing shades islets and thus creating tensions which set off the bright colouring of these natural shapes.
Vigorie patiently fashions primordial totemic or quadrangular structures without superfluous mannerism and putting aside classicism.
His inspiration and technique is extremely unusual. His works have always surpassed simple craftsmanship.
The material itself is beautiful, dense and rich between the sudden contrasts and the brilliant surfaces, the transparent and opaque areas, the ridges and curves, the effervescence and construction.
At the same time it is subjected to the transmutations of an insidious corrosion so that these blocks carved out of optical glass never appear to be irregular. It is simply their meaning which becomes reoriented when exposed to the subjectivity of those beholding it.
These sculptures are built on an organisation founded on a reflection which shows the specificity of a vision and the mastery of a constantly deepened skill.
Notwithstanding, the material only transmits the message. In fact as Hajdu points out “Arts begins where the matter ends”.
I find that it is difficult to synthesize the various criteria that surround an artist at work, several of which are unknown elements: the unacknowledgeable, the most secret inner truths, the endless surprises reserved by material on which one is working, the progression of the work itself and the time factor.
All one can do is compose, and this is probably the chief problem with creative work.
When I have produced a sculpture and I think it is complete, I am obliged to say it to myself and then leave it as it is, as it is the product of one particular instant, set in a precise time and place.
By breaking the physical fulfilment of glass, which is in itself timeless, I try to use the magic powers of transparency and translucence to give an idealized, imaginary form to its substance, and thus enhance its visual and suggestive charm.
I sometimes add unexpected graphic elements, to give an ambiguity of form and function, to confer upon my works of art a kind of plastic autonomy.
I feel that substance can adopt personal and individual significance; I imbue it with my own subconscious, manipulating an abstraction with techniques from the real world. This creates a meaningful form of expression, through which our collective subconsciouness and our time can be sensed.
Working with some polishing wheels and sand-blasting at high pressure (my way of achieving rapid erosion) help me to convey the fleeting notion I had of the object in my mind’s eye. The final work is a product of the past, of the immediate present, and the expectant future- a kind of synthesis of contraction. In contrast to this type of work, and to leave a personal stamp on my research, I design also highly constructed, studied pieces, which require time and much careful consideration.
An irresistible desire to stretch out and communicate beyond traditional limits makes me produce work with a constant sense of quest and an avid curiosity to know and understand.
Magali Lucas-Fabreguettes © Editor « Demeures et Châteaux » n° 33-1986
A sculptor in glass: that is how François Vigorie describes himself. But why sculptor and not glassmaker? “The moment one creates hollows and humps, or reams as if using a burin…”. His “burin” or what he calls his “eroding toll” is very often a blast or jet of sand under very high, variable, pressure. His materials are blocks of crystal, slabs of lass or, very often, optical glass with its marvellous, limpid transparence.
This element of transparency brings a whole new dimension to sculpture, if not several. It complicates everything, multiplies appearances as the different shapes compound within and reflect back, ever-changing according to one’s angle of vision, alters the play of light, mystifies the eye of the beholder.
François Vigorie speaks of “total sculpture”.
Sculpture which is both fixed in the glass and moving in space. The translucent material is a marvel of ambiguity: the more it allows one to perceive, the deeper grows the sense of mystery. An enigma of reflections: one never quite understands.
François Vigorie makes use of these qualities with the skill of a virtuoso. Absolute master of his technique, he juggles with the difficulties, reconciling effects one would think technically incompatible, constantly finding new inventive solutions.
He thinks in terms of transparency and mentally constructs an inside-out or back-to-front image motifs and shapes, taking into account the optical effect he is trying to create. By force of habit he sees things in six or seven dimensions.
If glass-engraving using sand-blasting and optical glass have enable Vigorie to produce much praised works of great originality, he has also mastered all the other traditional techniques for glass engraving: scoring silvered glass, etching with acid, grinding, boring, cutting with a diamond-headed tool.
He has a degree og manual dexterity that is rare to find, acquired through mastering and experimenting with so many different technique until he found a new one.
Vigorie comes originally from South-West, from Gironde, but has lived in Paris since his early childhood. He studied at the Lycée Henri IV, then trained in industrial electrical mechanics. Later, he became an apprentice wood-gilder, moved on picture-framing, and step by step, to restoring old picture frames, then mirrors. This was his first contact with glass and the birth of his inexhaustible and fruitful sense of curiosity.
From 1975 onwards this polytechnician, in the most literal sense of the world, began research work into the ancient methods of silvering glass, of glass-polishing, of painting on glass, then, eventually discovered his technique of engraving by sand-blasting.
His first works were engraved and painted mirrors, and other engraved objects for which he used flat surfaces.
Then in 1981, when he was 28, he set up a workshop in the rue du Pré aux Clercs, a peaceful little street running off the rue Saint-Guillaume in Saint Germain des Prés.
It had been his grand-father’s boot-making workshop. And in the same street, frequented by very “proper” students from Sciences-Po and the similarly correct ones from the prestigious ENA (Ecole National d’Administration), Vigorie opened a small gallery with the simple and adequate name: “Transparence”.
When François Vigorie disappears into his sanding cubby-hole, kitted out in a diving suit, one might think one is seeing a cosmonaut: he is penetrating into another universe. He will have traced and squared his idea, but will not have drawn it. He “sees” it, and works with gestures which are vigorous and precise. “By breaking into physical completeness of the glass, a plenitude which defies time, I am trying, with the magic of transparency and translucence, to bring out an ideal, imaginary, landscape which can be used for seeing and suggesting”.
François Vigorie, who is economical both with words and gestures, only expresses what is significant. As if gathered into his own interior world, he is, on the whole, far from transparent. It is not, however, difficult to discern that his insatiable curiosity on the subject of transparency has become an abiding obsession.
His quiet way of talking and his calm manner do not prevent one from suspecting the presence of what inner fury provoked by the need to search the presence of that inner fury provoked by the need to search, to find and to create. Like all true creators, Vigorie is seized by kind of avid-frenzy, the need to exercise one’s creative talents, to put them to the test, to make them grow without ceasing. The agony of the blank page, which Vigorie also talks about, is not the lack of inspiration but a dizzy sense of vertigo faced with a multitude of possibilities.
Images and ideas tumble over each other until finally insight draws.
François Vigorie also had ideas for other techniques in his head, and other experiments in view. It seems to him that there is a vast and infinite range of techniques to be explored. He knows that he must hold himself back, eliminate, choose : tough self-discipline. He also feels that time has not yet quite come to settle for one particular thing.
At only 32, Vigorie has just had his fifth exhibition, held at the “Quartz” gallery in the rue des Quatre Vents, a gallery not given to exposing those who are short of inspiration. And pieces signed Vigorie have already found their way into the Musée du Nord and those of Rouen and Bordeaux, as well as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, thus affording a degree of official recognition to the artist.
This young master of his art has neither pupil, nor helper nor indeed any equivalent in glassmaking world. His work is unique and absolutely distinct from anything being done by contemporaries. He is not interested in approach of other glassmaker: he is much too busy with his own.
He is completely solitary, his work accomplished well hidden away. And he produces, after much painstaking research, resplendent works of art, ablaze with light: vases, engraved lenses, sculptures properly so-called, tables of rare beauty.
Vigorie possesses two indispensable attributes for success: a legitimate confidence in himself which is conferred by his undoubted talent, reinforced by an exacting and rigorous execution; and the creative fever which is no doubt inspired by the conviction that, through his abiding passion, he has found his true motive force, perhaps even the meaning of existence.
Gérard XURIGUERA © Critics and art historian
If things are as Erik Dietman says “everything that casts a shadow is sculpture”, we can then include several practices under his banner that orthodoxy could have previously rejected. In fact, for at least two decades, the commonly accepted notion of sculpture has become considerably broader, even overlapping painting and including, not without some reticence, artwork on glass within its landscape.
Marginalised for a long time, working in glass was considered a practical work or pleasurable art, often reduced to an expression of craftsmen, even with the advances it made. Then, thanks to the invention of a new range of more and more sophisticated techniques and to more inquisitive visions, other perceptions of matter and space pivoted, yet preserving its own character, glass soon went beyond its own limits becoming an artform in itself, making a legitimate place for itself in the heart of the broad and diversified range of contemporary sculpture.
François Vigorie belongs to this category of fervent innovators who struggled for recognition and rehabilitation of the expressive potential in glass. This being done in a model self-sacrifice and solitude, and in a country that doesn’t have a glass tradition, contrary to Eastern Europe, Great Britain, Italy, Holland and now the United States. AS well, far from being plain craftsmanship, his approach draws us right in, as much by the efficiency of his technical procedure as by the impact of his aesthetical peak.
Born in the Gironde region in a family that lived off the land, his grandfather being a bootmaker, he is very early on attracted to the aquatic shimmering of ponds and the veiled vividness of submerged rocks. He installs in Paris and henceforth does his secondary studies and follows mechanics courses at the Violet School. However, his vocation is precocious. At sixteen years of age, he makes a head in plaster but refuses to be recruited for the School of Fine Arts. He appreciates certain painters, notably Jean Helion but he insists on his autodidactic status, pursuing, on one side, his engineering studies that the scientific knowledge proves useful later on, and on the other, adding the final touches to the technician’s aspect and the means he wants to use syntactically. In 1975, he works in a framing shop and begins restoring picturetrames prior to accepting, the following year, the restoration of an “Art Deco” mirror and to begin reflecting on old silver-plating methods and on glass painting. Finally, it is after meeting a Parisian craftsman that he learns the techniques of ornamental glass decoration and particularly sand blasting engraving.
“I started with line drawing, Vigorie says, but I don’t draw any more. I quickly used the physico-mechanic phenomenon of ‘sand blasting’, an axis of experimentation where the synthesis allowed me to abandon the line for abrasion a determination factor of my writing”.
In parallel, after having tackled furniture making, creating coffee tables furnished with sculptured trays upside-down, accentuated with paint and weft in gold leaf, he brings his first ‘free blasting’ sculptures to life.
In 1978, he meets Juliette man Ray which fortifies his commitment and brings him to strip his process.
Successively overcome by oneiric temptation of unique hues of colour, stencilling and then relief through the process of rapid erosion, he refines and employs this well matured technique not yet used. It consists of projecting aluminium oxide on the industrialised block or slab of glass by controlled, very high pressure blaster that attacks and removes areas of matter under the pressure of compressed air, modelling the volume with hollows or excrescences, in lines or in internal or external stratifications whereby the hollowed out structures reflect a decisive gestural tension, fore there is no place foe error here.
It also occurs that, depending on the project, Vigorie has to intervene on these outer layers with a sharp point and stencils, a technique dating back to 1880 and is subject to his metaphoric power.
Using rapid erosion, he skins and burrows but doesn’t add, the absence of matter at times creating the volume and image, without paying any attention to analogies fortuitously set off. The relation with appearances doesn’t enter his mind, even if the organic forms merge with the material, since he has to work with heat, in the urgency of his sensations, prior to giving his compositions for polishing, being careful to keep the worked parts intact.
Concerning the chromatic partitions, that carry their varied nuances to the glass’ limpidity, they are the object of a studied industrial preparation, but Vigorie prefers them white, treating it equal to that of a colour, on which eroded, twisted or wrinkled amputations of certain parts of the surface are separated.
At the heart of these perimeters simultaneously polished and in their raw state, where a infinitesimal fraction is compulsorily controlled by the impositions of the material, or is far from abandonment and the uncertain, everything is controlled from one end to their other in the structuring of the piece. Equipment at hand, focused on the forces of his experience and thought process, it’s up to the artist to decide on the curves, sags, turgidity, striations or folds of his translucid reinforcements, that permanently play on the opacity and transparence, the polished and accidental, see explosion.
Following these volumes perpetually giving birth, where light is consubstantial with form and where the core of the form hasn’t defined roots, Vigorie speaks to us of the living transcendence of the inert. By drawing mind and matter together in this rise towards light, that exhales his intimate feeling and his human sense, since “transparency, as he mentions, is like human nature”, he not only emits primordial energy but also translates the mystery of discovery that, little by little he makes about himself, and the potentiality of his chosen material.