Maurits Cornelis Escher is perhaps one of the world’s best known graphic artists. He is famous for his morphing tessellations and “impossible structures” that fool the viewer’s eye. During his lifetime (1898-1972), Escher completed 448 lithographs, woodcuts, and wood engravings, as well as more than 2,000 sketches and drawings. One of his sons, George Escher, donated 160 of his father’s prints to the National Gallery of Canada.
Escher was born and raised in the Netherlands. His father was a civil engineer and encouraged him to go to the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem (despite that fact that young Escher had failed his high school exams). It was after only one week into his schooling in Haarlem that he decided to study the graphic arts instead of architecture as his father had wanted. His graphic arts teacher, artist Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita, was the one who encouraged him to focus on his extraordinary prints and drawings.
Escher spent years traveling and living in Italy. He was especially interested in drawing the southern Italian landscape, which he used for many of his prints. Further proof that he made the right choice in switching from studying architecture is that although he lived in Rome for years, yet the world-famous architecture was never an interest to him.
Mathematics plays a major role in Escher’s work. Surprisingly, he never had any special training in math. He found tessalations particularly fascinating. This form of geometry, also known as regular divisions of the plane, is a collection of a shape repeated over and over on a single plane without any gaps or overlaps. Previously, tessellations were created with rather simple shapes. Escher distorted and manipulated these simple shapes to resemble things such as various animals. In his “Metamorphoses” series, the tessellations “morph” into changing shapes or even leave the plane such as in Reptiles. In this lithograph, reptiles seem to be following a continuous cycle in which they “enter” an image of a drawing of a tessellation and then come out of the drawing, walking back around it to the same entrance point.
When viewing a two-dimensional depiction of a three-dimensional object, the human brain automatically attempts to construct a model of the 3-D object in their mind. Escher took advantage of this phenomenon by creating “impossible” objects: objects which can be translated two-dimensionally but are impossible to construct three-dimensionally. Depending on the angle from which the impossible object is viewed and the way in which the viewer interprets it in their mind, there will be different perceptions of it. It is a form of an optical illusion. FCC/Wennekes Mutimedia developed a virtual ride in conjunction with an Escher retrospective exhibition in the “Kunsthal” in Rotterdam in 1998. Spectators were able to “fly” through Belvédère, Waterfall and Ascending and Descending, three of his most popular “impossible” works.
In my opinion an impossible situation only really stands out when the impossibility is not immediately obvious. If you want to draw attention to something impossible, you must try to deceive first yourself and then your audience, by presenting your work in such a way that the impossible element is veiled and a superficial observer would not even notice it. There should be a certain mysteriousness that does not immediately hit the eye. –MC Escher
The M.C. Escher Foundation (established by Escher himself in 1968 in order to “preserve the legacy of his work”) is responsible for publishing the Official M.C. Escher website on which it explains the foundation’s goals:
“The M.C. Escher Foundation today organizes exhibitions, publishes books and films about the life and work of M.C. Escher. The Foundation has a large collection of original work by M.C. Escher to its deposal and tries to get as many original pieces back to the Netherlands. […] The ultimate goal of the M.C. Escher Foundation is to establish a permanent M.C. Escher Museum.”
Escher has had a major influence on many artists. Contemporary artist Dick Termes is just one of them. Check out his “Termespheres.” What do you think of them? How can they be compared to Escher’s Hand with Reflecting Sphere?
In this video, Termes shows off and explains his “Termesphere” entitled Finishing an Escher.
What do you like best about Escher’s work? The math behind it? The morphing tessellations? The impossibilities?
The New Britain Museum of American Art is proud to announce that it will be hosting an Escher exhibition from July 16 to November 14, 2010. Entitled MC Escher: Impossible Reality, this show will highlight masterpieces from the Herakleidon Museum which was founded by and holds the collection of private collectors from Connecticut.