The Artwork of MC Escher
M.C. Escher, or Maurits Cornelis Escher, born on June 17, 1898, in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, was a graphic artist known for his creative, and mind boggling drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints. His most famous works are his impossible structures, tessellations and his explorations of infinity. At a young age Escher did poorly at school, even during his enrollment at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, The Netherlands. At that school, he first studied architecture but failed in many of the subjects. He then switched to the decorative arts where he studied under Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita. It was then that Escher gained experience in drawing and making woodcuts. Escher traveled constantly, moving back and forth from The Netherlands to Italy, Belgium, and Spain. It was during these travels that Escher produced most of his works. Escher says that his stay in the Alhambra castle in Spain was "...the richest source of inspiration I have ever tapped." Escher continued to travel until he finally moved to a retirement home for artists in 1970. Only two years after that, M.C. Escher died on March 27, 1972 at 73 years old.
M.C. Escher produced his works during the era of Modernism—the era of "reinventing" art. However, Escher did not prescribe to any "ism" at all. He merely created whatever he wanted to. He had an extreme interest in certain aspects of life, such as tessellations (repeating tiles), polyhedron (3 dimensional geometric objects), the shape and logic of space (the relationship between physical objects), and infinity (including the möbius strip and tessellations). These are the subjects of many of Escher's works. Though Escher did not have any formal training or education in mathematics, nearly all of his works use complicated mathematical principals. Escher's work fits into the Modernist era because he produced his art just because he could, and because he wanted to. His subject matter would never have been accepted in the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, but in the Modern Era such paradigms were not considered anymore.
I noticed that M.C. Escher produced a lot of his work during World War II. In fact, once he had to move out of Belgium back into The Netherlands because of the war. I noted that unlike many artists who tailor their works around the social happenings at the time, Escher's work doesn't change at all. He continues to create the same things without any social commentary on the surrounding war.
Although Escher did not invent tessellations, he did however basically perfect them. He is prominently known for creating tessellation masterpieces. Even today, tessellations are used in floor tiles, counter tiles, and wallpaper. I can only imagine that Escher's work helped perpetuate the use of tessellations because he made them famous and interesting.
My favorite part about M.C. Escher's work is that he plays with the viewer's knowledge of reality and perception. Most of his drawings are optical illusions because they seem to be impossible, but, at the same time, he draws them so well that they look real. I was amazed to see his work because it opened my eyes to the way pictures can trick the mind. Escher's creation called Waterfall is a perfection example of the way he tricks the viewer's mind. In the drawing, water is pushed along an aqueduct by a waterwheel until it reaches the end of the aqueduct where it falls back down to the beginning where it turns the waterwheel, again pushing the water along the aqueduct. This is a paradox because the water appears to be traveling downhill, and by the laws of physics it should, but it ends up at the top of the structure somehow, where it falls back down to the bottom. I think Escher is messing with the brain's insistence to view two-dimensional objects as three-dimensional objects. By two-dimensional terms, this drawing makes perfect sense, but when you view it by three-dimensional terms the brain unhinges because the object represented in the picture is physically impossible to create. I am impressed because it is a very ingenious idea, and because it is very detailed, using two point perspective and shading to create realistic three-dimensional objects. Not only that, but I think the most fun part is to just look at it and to try to figure out how he does it.
My favorite piece of Escher's work is called Relativity, which depicts a world where there are people living among each other but which live on different planes of existence. There might be a stairway with one person walking up the stairs, yet underneath those same stairs, upside-down, there is another person walking down them. The picture is full of these illogical situations. I am personally interested in portraying three-dimensions on a two-dimension surface, so Relativity is particularly interesting to me because Escher does a fantastic job of creating 3 three-dimensional worlds all wrapped up in each other. Besides being a stunning display of artistic skill, Relativity has meaning on a deeper level. To me, I see the faceless, identical people living among each other but acting as though they are oblivious to others around them. This seems to be a representation of our lives. We are often so consumed with our own lives, only caring about ourselves, that we ignore those around us. It is a selfish way of life and I think that Relativity is an illustration of this fact in a truly unique way.
After researching information about Escher's work, I began to notice a reoccurring theme in his work. Although very subtle, Escher often created things which represented the idea of "self-reference". We are ourselves because we've made ourselves the way we are. It is a never ending cycle—here again is an exploration of infinity, although more abstract. In Escher's work, Three Spheres II, there are three glass spheres sitting on a flat surface. On the surface of one sphere is a reflection of a room. On another sphere, the artist himself is reflected in its surface. On the last sphere, the paper on which the artist is working is reflected. Although each sphere represents something else, they are all connected with each other. The second sphere is extremely significant because it reflects the artist himself. It is a self-portrait, a self-reference, a reflection of the artist, the artist being reflected in his work.
Drawing Hands is a lithograph of two hands both drawing each other on a piece of paper. The hands themselves look very realistic, photo-like. The composition, placement, of the hands forms a big circle, which I think, again, is contributing to Escher's fascination of the infinity. It is somewhat creepy the way the hands are, at one point, led on a paper, and then the next moment they have popped out of the paper and are real hands. I like this piece because it is simple, unlike most of Escher's works. I'm sure this piece would be hard to duplicate, it's not simple in that way, but I think it is simple because it is easy to view. I think Drawing Handscould also be another way Escher has portrayed "self-reference". I think this one is more straight forward because the hands are literally creating each other, just like we create ourselves.
Overall, M.C. Escher's work has a really systematic, mathematically tone to it which really interests me. I'm enthralled with math and science because they are interesting and fascinating subjects, so when I see the mathematical genius behind Escher's work, I am that much more excited by it. As well, three-dimensional design is my favorite type of art. A lot of M.C. Escher's work deals with three-dimensional design. Just from researching his work, I found out a lot of information about perspectives. Before hand, I had only thought there was one and two point perspective. But after researching Ascending-Descending, I learned that there are actually three point and four point perspectives, all the way up to six point perspective.
M.C. Escher produced a lot of works using complicated processes such as lithography, woodcutting, and mezzotints, which even after hours of research, I still don't fully understand. Not only was he considered a master of these printmaking styles, he was a master at mathematics. Scholars today are still having trouble trying to figure out how Escher designed and produced some of his work. The fact that Escher did this shows how significant his work is. When he produced his work, long ago, he was actually way ahead of his time. What is even better is that he had no in depth math education, it was all intuitive. To be able to self teach yourself that kind of complicated math would be near impossible, yet, Escher does it as though it were as easy as breathing. Finally, what stands out to me the most, after having learned more about M.C. Escher's personal life, is that he actually did poorly at school, and architecture college. He was below, below average in many courses. This opens my eyes because I often feel that to be successful you have to get "A's" in every class. Escher failed many of his classes but his art work is famous and will always be famous. You do not need to be the top of your class to make an impact in the world, contrary to today's popular belief. M.C. Escher is one of a kind because not only is he insanely imaginative, but he is very skilled at manipulating the sense of sight.
Bart, Anneke, and Bryan Clair. EscherMath. 2007. 20 Apr. 2008
Locher, J L. M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work. Amsterdam: n.p., 1981.
M.C. Escher Company. The Official M.C. Escher Website. 21 Apr. 2008 <http://www.mcescher.com/>.
Platonic Realms. “Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher.” Platonic Realms. 2008. 20 Apr. 2008 <http://www.mathacademy.com/pr/minitext/escher/index.asp>.
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