The Phantastic Worlds of M. C. Escher

Hand with Reflecting Sphere
by M.C. Escher

On June 17, 1898, Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher, better known as M. C. Escher, was born. He is known for his often mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints, which feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, architecture, and tessellations.

M. C. Escher always glanced with his drawing abilities as a child, but also arrested attention with his otherwise poor grades. After school, he enrolled at the Haarlem Schoof of Architecture and Decorative Arts, finishing in 1922. During these years he got in touch with and gained lots of experience in drawing as well as woodcuts. Very influencing to his artist career was the journey Escher made in 1922 through Europe. Escher visited Italy, and Spain, being mostly fascinated by the countrysides and the building’s designs. Due to the positive impressions and influences the artist gained, he visited Italy in the future more often, eventually living there, wherefore the country became an important fragment of his life and work. During his time in italy, Escher created ‘Still Life and Street‘, one of his most famous prints of an impossible reality. The image’s inspiration depicted a street in Savona, Italy. The picture was an early example of his playful way handling perspectives, as it looks like the books on his table leaned against the far away buildings.

Due to the political unease in Italy, M. C. Escher moved along with his family to Switzerland, where he was never really able to settle, while in search of the same beautiful landscaped he saw in Italy. In Belgium he could not stay because of World War II and he moved to the Netherlands. As depressing as this period seems, it was also the most productive in Escher’s life. The dark and cloudy weather made him focus on his work and he completed numerous pictures during his time there with almost no break.

Escher’s prints of impossible realities made him famous. Next to Still Life and Street, the Drawing Hands, published in 1948 in which the two hands draw each other. M. C. Escher knew how to portray mathematical relationships of shapes and bodies as well as playing with their perspectives brilliantly without having a higher mathematical education. The mathematical importance in his pictures evolved also during his stay in Italy, where he began gaining interest in orders of shapes and symmetry. Escher’s brother once sent him a paper by the mathematician George Pólya on plane symmetry groups that increased Escher’s attention and he decided to focus more on the mathematical issues in his works, wherefore the artist is liked by so many scientists. He spent more time figuring out how to combine infinity of objects with two-dimensional planes, which he began discussing with several mathematicians.

Through his works, Escher was able to open up whole new art creations and bring the mathematical component in art to a whole new level. At yovisto, you may enjoy the video lecture Gödel, Escher, Bach as part of a whole series by Justin Curry at MIT, bringing the character’s interests in art, mathematics, logics, physics and numerous other scientific fields together.

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