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R.Druet interviewed by Jenny Groat (for ALPHABET Spring 1994)

It was on July 14, Bastille Day, in 1987 that Druet, first appeared on the doorstep of Lagunitas house – CA. with Alain Mazeran, who himself became known to the calligraphy world in 1987 as the Parisian publisher of FLORILEGE and FLORAISON. Having now had the opportunity to see a range of Roger's artwork over a period of years, to see its development and to understand more of the thinking behind it, I welcome the invitation to write of these things for Alphabet. There are several exceptionally fine calligraphic artists in France who, despite an overall lack of interest in calligraphy there, are well respected as artists in their own country but are as yet little known in the United States. Roger Druet is one of these

Since those days it is hard to imagine any aspect of lettering in graphic design not explored and enriched by Roger Druet. He has designed logos, brochures and posters for prominent ad agencies, institutions, firms and museums, been for years at a time responsible for art design within major French periodicals, and completed many projects for the French government, including the design of several postal stamps. He conceived of and designed a major, hardcover book on calligraphy, La Civilisation de l'Ecriture (Civilization of 'Writing) in collaboration with Herman Grégoire, who brought the edition to press in 1977. This large, scholarly and very beautifully designed and constructed book begins with cuneiform, progresses through the history of handwritten letters and ends with remarks concerning machine-derived letterforms. It is made unusual by its hand­some design and by its commentary, which focuses especially upon the thesis that since the arts of various times are expressions of the spiritual sense, thoughts and values of any given age, writing may well he one of the most immediate and telling barometers of an epoch, coming as it has out of direct connection (or loss of it) with the human gesture. Another large, beautifully designed and produced book in which Druet collaborated with Andrée Chauleur in 1986 is De Dagobert a Charles de Gaulle: Ecritures de France. This book, commissioned by the French Ministry of Education, is a remarkable historic survey of the personal handwriting of various French leaders. It is interesting to note that the French take handwriting analysis of character very seriously, and that it is commonly a major factor in job hiring. The preferred business letter is one that is handwritten, not typed, and even I have been asked, informally but in all seriousness, to see what I could discern in the writing of a person not known to me. These books are so far unavailable in the United States, since no book dealer has wanted to risk the distribution of such expensively produced hooks not having an English translation.

Roger Druet has also many times collaborated with other major French artists such as poet Michel Butor in works which cross into the "fine arts" areas. These have at various times been either legible texts or abstract, rhythmic expres­sions, and have been contributions to books or, most recently, a multi-media theatrical synthesis in twelve parts, involving poetry, music, writing and dance, with Jean-Yves Bosseur. Druet has also produced several large tapestries of his abstract writings in several colors, woven by Paris artisans. Although capable of formal writing, as some of his earlier works demonstrate, he has grown through various periods of exploration. In a period of time around 1984 his art works consisted more often of texts freely written in block or stag­gered layouts, legible and similar to freely written works we often see from other excellent artists today. The qualities of these works which we always look for and admire include, usually, their obvious basis in previous formal, disciplined work, those forms now set free. What must then remain if this kind of work is to be successful, is the ink-record of the hand which can make no error of line, but which now moves transcendently, rhythmically and with beauty.

If we cannot describe in words "truth of line and gesture" we may know it when we see it or feel ourselves perform it, and we can see the uncertainty or the lie when those are present. This kind of writing is impossible to produce without the earlier rigorous formal practice. In the same period, with a truly insatiable curiosity concerning other world cultures and arts Roger was visually stimulated and influenced by the Arabic writ­ing which can be seen often in Paris, and in particular by his warm friendship with Hassan Massoudy, who has lived there for many years. Massoudy's own beautiful artworks are very well known and probably most visible to most of us occasionally in Calligraphy Review or in publisher Mazeran's FLORILEGE, where Druet's work also appears on the endpapers and in various places through out. Druet readily and happily acknowl­edges Massoudy's influence, and points out many of his own works which are abstractions suggesting Arabic decorative styles, though the Arabic works are actually legible texts. This seems to be an ongoing theme for Druet. Unless a commission recalls him to his letter and design skills, his self originated artworks usually have been abstract calligraphic paintings performed with his favored tools and materials. Speedball and large, "Automatic" pens are dipped into bottled ink, gouache or acrylic paint and heavily loaded in order to sustain the large, sweeping gestures. Very often he will lay down an undercoating of water­color or gouache upon which the pen or, occasionally, colored pencil gestures will float. In earlier works the colored under painting was often given an overall tex­ture of various letterforms and abstract markings before the larger writings were performed over those in various contrasting colors. For a while the foundational colors were left to themselves, without the background texturing, but when we visited Paris this fall I found that the texturing had reappeared, even more richly than before, in a new progression and synthesis, along with new variations in the abstract marks. These more textured and contrapuntal works are among, my personal favorites.

All these works are performed upon various superb papers and although Roger may sometimes make a thumbnail sketches for a compo­sition; the finished piece is always attempted on these exquisite papers, with the risks accepted. He also may turn the paper to work from a different side, in order to complete a gesture in the thick­ness or line or direction of movement he feels the composition demands. Concurrent with these works, Druet seems to return frequently to another theme, in stark black and white, abstractions often inspired by specific musical compositions. By 1987 he had produced a group of these as large, fine, limited edition serigraphs on rag papers. These I also greatly admire, and I believe they will come to be a major group and style associated with Druet. We have lived with one in our home for several years and it retains its fascination. These black and white abstract writings are particularly difficult to accomplished well. Like some music of Mozart, they are deceptively simple. Their performance reminds me of the disciplined spontaneity required in Chinese brush  writing. I think one must try them, onself, in order to understand and appreciate their "trails of awareness," as I call such things.

A coherent and poetic composition must result from the balance of light and dark shapes performed on the paper field. It is a game played with one­self. The gestures must not falter, the spaces must be interesting in relation to one another, as defined by those swiftly moving ink tracks. There is no time to think; one must only allow the knowing, practiced body to take minimum direction from the intellect which has trained it. Roger Druet and Karlgeorg Hoefer first met when Roger came to this country to be my invited team teacher for the Friends of Calligraphy 1989 EXPERIMENTS Calligraphy Symposium. Maria Hoefer helped translate as I introduced them to one another at the faculty reception in the Special Collections rooms of the San Francisco Public Library. Roger was eager to connect to the calligraphy world outside of his few European contacts and he and Karlgeorg had an immediate rap­port. When Roger presented to Susie Taylor, for the Harrison Collection, a set of these black and white serigraphs, Karlgeorg responded with great excite­ment and spent many moments studying each in turn, exclaiming repeatedly over them. He could understand these works to the core, since he, too, treasures move­ment, gesture and musicality in his own work and teaching.

   
 
 
 
 
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