Tuesday, March 1, 2011

M.C. Escher (Danwei Wu)

"The illusion that an artist wishes to create is much more subjective and far more important than the objective, physical means with which he tries to create it."

- Escher, Lecture at Stedelijk Museum, 16 November 1953

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) is a well-known Dutch graphic artist, famous for his woodcuts of repeating patterns and impossible architecture. He attended the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts from 1919 to 1922. His work consists of mostly lithographs and woodcuts. Escher takes advantage of the nuisances in perspective as well as the reiteration of shapes and forms. His piece Eight Heads is typical of his work. In it, he employs a tessellation of various figures to create a continuous interlocking pattern of faces. By using only black and white, Escher creates high contrast and enhances the effect of the repeating faces.

Eight Heads 1922. Woodcut 12 3/4 x 13"
(image: http://cgfa.acropolisinc.com/escher/p-escher2.htm)

Escher's success in employing this technique stems from his mastery of figure and ground. his patterned work often depends on the reiteration of contour lines and negative space. In his piece Smaller and Smaller, he effectively transforms the space into repeating lizards by using interlocking contours.

Smaller and Smaller 1956. Wood engraving and woodcut, 15 X 15"


Escher is also well known for his impossible architectural designs. His passion in math has led him to explore different concepts of perspective. His never ending staircase uses the superposition of hyperbolic planes on top of 2D ones to create the illusion of infinite ascent and descent. This is done through the use of various impossible figures such as the Penrose triangle and the Necker Cube. An example of this can be found in Escher's study of Relativity, which exploits the classical notions of perspective by using 3-point perspective to create the illusion as well as the Penrose triangle.

Study for Relativity with three vanishing points 1953. Pencil
(image: http://sequentialscott.deviantart.com/journal/?offset=10)

Escher's work seamlessly incorporates reality with imagination. My favorite piece by hims is his Tetrahedral Planetoid. The complexity and the description of the woodcut is beautiful. It is visually captivating. A viewer can easily lose herself in the endless staircases and the logic defying architecture. I personally find his use of high contrast very appealing. It creates a sense of depth and tangibility to the drawing. His works provide examples of how observations can be incorporated into original and imaginary concepts. I consider his work to be highly innovative. Modern graphic artists still use many of his techniques, such as tessellation, in their work to create captivating commercial art. Escher is, and will continue to be, one of my favorite 20th century artist because of his ability to create though provoking pieces.

Tetrahedral Planetoid 1954. Woodcut, 16 7/8 X 16 7/8"
(image: http://www.leninimports.com/mceschershop.html)


  1. Locher, J.L. (2000). The Magic of M.C. Escher. Harry N Abrams, Inc
  2. M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work, editied by J.L Locher, Amsterdam 1981.
  3. The Official M.C. Escher Website. www.mcescher.com Accessed 3/1/2011

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