Wednesday, February 22, 2017

M.C. Escher by Jae Ro

On 17 June 1898, Maurits Cornelius Escher was born in the town of Leeuwarden in the Nerthelands and was the youngest son of George and Sara Escher. Growing up he attended the hogere burgerschool in Arnhem where he formed a relationship with his art teacher, F. W. van der Haagen, who recognized and encouraged his talent. Escher's teacher first introduced him to and taught him how to make linoleum cuts for prints. This would later lead to Escher making woodcuts and considering studying architecture at the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem. Although he had the intention to eventually become an architect, he ended up devoting his studies to the graphic arts and began a full program in the graphic arts.

At this point, most of Escher's work was woodcuts, but one of his more pivotal journeys was his sketching trip through Italy and Spain in 1922. In particular, when he visited Granada, he was enamored by the intricate decorative designs of the Alhambra and Moorish architecture and became fascinated with the geometrical symmetries and interlocking repetitive patterns in the tiles on the walls and ceilings. This would later light his continued interest in mathematics and tessellation and later influenced his work. In 1941 and 1942, Escher wrote about his revelations in his sketchbook named Regelmatige vlakverdeling in asymmetrische congruente veelhoeken. Upon his return, he translated his sketches from Granada to his woodblock designs. These designs tended to shift towards being highly symmetrical following strict pattern rules. These pattern rules were guided by Escher's urge to "fill the plane" and leave every space filled. Some of these pattern rules included the rule that each repeated shape had to be individually recognizable but also interconnected and integral to the formation of its adjacent patterns.

Later in his life, Escher would move to Italy and live in Rome from 1923 to 1935. It was around this time that Escher met his wife, Jetta Umiker. However, in 1935, due to the political climate of Italy, he was forced to leave and moved to Switzerland. But shortly after, he would move to Belgium and eventually the Netherlands, where he stayed until 1970. Escher completed most of his work during his time in the Netherlands, and passed away on 27 March 1972 at the age of 73.

I particularly found Escher's work fascinating because of how different in nature it was to most other works. There was a certain beauty of the interlocking shapes and figures that attracted me. The creative division of plane and use of intricate, interlocking designs was fascinating to see and had my eyes traveling across the page. Escher's use of mathematical concepts, even if he didn't particularly intend to, to create his works was very impressive. His designs gave a sense of completeness to his work in the sense that every space was filled but also a sense of incompleteness in that the drawing seemed to continue to infinity and had no visual ending cue. This dissonance was particularly drawing to me.

[1] Early sketch of Moorish tiling in Alhambra. 1936. Sketch.
The sketches above show some of the early influences of Escher's trip to Granada. A lot of his sketches model the tiles interlocking designs that he saw in Moorish architecture. These sketches would later be translated to his woodcuts. These sketches marked his first fascination with the patterns and geometric patterns. I chose these sketches because they serve as clear evidence of the strong influence his sketching journey through Italy and Spain had on him that would influence his later work.

[2] Eight Heads. 1922. Woodcut, printed with nine impressions.
Eight Heads showcases Escher's commitment to his rules that he set out; that the interlocking figures each had to be individually recognizable and also a part of the composition of the adjacent figures. I liked this woodcut because the design is well thought out and intricate and goes beyond simple shapes/polygons like in his earlier sketches but instead makes use of seemingly non matching patterns (such as human heads) and weaves them together very well. For example, the way Escher uses the noses and brows of the human heads to places the heads upside down and adjacent to each allows for a filled plane while not sacrificing the individual distinction of the heads themselves.

[3] Relativity. 1953. Lithograph.
Relativity showcases Escher's delving into seemingly infinite works. By cleverly using divisions of plane and geometric features, Escher was able to create a work that at first glance seems realistic but upon further examination is physically impossible. Escher's works of this nature tend to be the most popular and understandably so. I enjoyed this work because of his clever use of angles and perspective to create an impossible structure that seems right. To me, this work showcases Escher's mastery of three dimensional representation on a two dimensional medium.


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