M.C. Escher

M.C. Escher

Maurits Cornelis Escher (Mauk to his friends) was an immensely talented 20th century artist specializing in woodcuts and lithographs. He was born on June 17, 1898, and became known as the creator of images which played with the relationship of background and foreground. He called his technique the "regular division of the plane".

What he tried to do was to take the regular patterns found in tiles (particularly like what he saw in Moorish palace, the Alhambra in Spain) and make them more pictorial. Instead of simple shapes, he made them into interlocking figures, most often fish and birds. In his later work, he was frequently challenging the viewer to re-think a perception of space.

But the range of his talent goes far beyond his playing with negative spaces. His landscapes and portraits, his posters and simpler graphic images show a skill that is often overlooked by his more popular work.

Bruce Van Patter
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His etchings and woodcuts:

I've decided not to show Escher's more famous pieces. There are other places on the web for those. Here are ones that interest me.

This piece, Day and Night, was his most popular print. It's a good example of how he could make the background and foreground to flip-flop.

Escher's work was methodical, careful, exacting. He often inspired himself with the music of Bach, which matched his mathematical moods.

But this was not a cold, mental exercise for him. He wrote a friend in 1951: "I have embarked on this geometric problem again and again over the years... I cannot imagine what my life would be like if this problem had never occurred to me; one might say that I am head over heels in love with it, and I still don't know why."

I love this etching. In one sense, it's a simple image: a fish in a pond. But the title shows Escher's interest in making his art multi-layered. He titled this Three Worlds. There is the world of the water (the fish), the surface of the water (the leaves) and the air above (the reflection of the trees).

When we look at things, we tend to simplify. We focus in on the one thing we're after -- a face in the crowd, a house in a field. We close out so many other details, so many other "worlds". We can't see the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes.

Escher's work challenges us to open up our perception. An object doesn't just exist. It exists in an environment. And sometimes the space around the object is more interesting than the object itself.

Escher's woodcuts are technically brilliant. I've never done woodcuts, but I have illustrated many hundreds of line drawings, and I can tell you, the range of light and dark in his work is astounding.

One question arised from this woodcut, The Division of the Waters: was he modeling the waves after his hair, or the other way around?

I recommend finding a book about him in the library. Your kids will love looking at the clever ways he works light and dark patterns together, transforming birds into fish, making stairs become impossible. But take time to sample his stylized landscape etchings as well. His work is worth savoring.

Check back soon... I'll be adding other Great Creators to my collection!