CLARITY AND CONFUSION WERE TWO SENSATIONS I TEETERED BETWEEN while observing any one of Escher's works. And there are at least a hundred of them, currently on exhibit at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Birds become fishes. Convex becomes concave. Lizards become honeycomb becoming bees, fishes, birds, blocks and chess pieces. Staircases loop back on themselves.
A graphic artist with a brief background in architecture and decorative arts, Maurits Cornelis, more commonly known as M. C. Escher, depicted infinity, impossibility and illusion on woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints. He did so with patterns, scenes and architectural constructions designed with both an incredible imagination and mathematical precision certain to challenge any observer. Is it a wall? Is it a floor? Where does the ribbon begin? Where do the stairs end?
Looking at an Escher is like looking at a puzzle that rewards you with satisfaction when you figure it out. I'm particularly fascinated by his work because I am fascinated by geometry, which is a prominent feature in Escher's oeuvre. The Alhambra in Granada was an influence to him, basing patterns and sketches on the geometric grids employed by Moorish ornamentation. His tesselations, which he coined "regular division of the plane" induce awe, not only for their visual ingenuity but also for their manual, mathematical perfection. Depictions of impossible architecture, such as in Relativity and Belvedere, inspire wonder, proving that there are no limits to imagination.
Well-liked by mathematicians, Escher's work also has its share of fans among pop-culture influencers. In film, Jim Henson's Labyrinth and Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring reference Escher's Relativity. In music, Incubus based the music video for "Drive" on Escher's Drawing Hands. It was also famously known that Escher turned down Mick Jagger's "plea" for him to design a Rolling Stones album cover. Evidently, Escher was an artist on a plane of his own.
Unaffiliated with any movement, Escher operated "quietly at the fringes of the art world" to carefully calculate and create the impossible. Art tends to be associated with passion, vision or conviction to be considered great. But the art of M. C. Escher shows that you can be studious, and still be very cool.
Belvedere, Bond of Union, Relativity and Reptiles by M. C. Escher. The Amazing World of M. C. Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk All M. C. Escher works © 2015 The M. C. Escher Company-The Netherlands. All rights reserved. mcescher.com