Wednesday, October 3, 2012

M.C. Escher -- Andie MacDonald

I decided to write my blog post on M.C. Escher—much of his work is graphic design, but I still think a lot of his drawings are extremely interesting and can be relevant to what we’ve talked about in our class.

Maurits Cornelius Escher was born in 1898 in the Netherlands. He was sickly as he grew up, and despite his natural talent he performed poorly in most of his classes in school (even those that were architecture and design-related). However, eventually his natural talent for drawing and printing was recognized, and he began to excel in fine arts classes (and to move away from a career in architecture). In 1922, Escher took time to travel through Italy and Spain—this was an important year in his early works, getting him interested in landscapes and also in mathematical/geometric patterns featured in famous cathedrals throughout Europe. As the world wars ravaged Europe, Escher briefly moved to Switzerland and then back to the Netherlands, where he remained until death. In the post-war years, he became more interested in drawings of impossible realities, such as the infinitely ascending staircase, which would become some his most famous works. As his work gained popularity, more work was commissioned, and he was able to see the first compilation of his works completed before he died in 1972 at the age of 73. I like a lot of his pictures, but I picked three of them below.

This picture, “Ravello and the Coast of Amalfi,” is a lithograph print from 1931, during Escher’s travels through Italy. In this period, Escher was still drawing realistic pictures. What drew me to this picture in particular was his use of different values of lines to represent depth. In the foreground, the lines are stronger and darker, making the image clearer. To give the image the hazy fading-to-the-background feeling, Escher makes the lines gradually lighter as they fade away. In class we talked a lot about how we can vary the value of lines to give the picture depth or texture, and I think that is well exemplified here.

This picture, entitled “Land and Water” is actually a lithograph print, which we don’t work with in our class. However, what drew me to this picture was our discussion of negative space. In class, we said negative space was frequently used in graphic design, and Escher’s works are a good example. Here, Escher cleverly uses the negative space to actually morph from fishes to birds. I think this is so interesting and subtle, and though it isn’t a drawing based on a still life he had to put great consideration into the spatial relationships of the objects in order to make the negative space fit perfectly.

This is another lithograph print called “Reptiles” (1943). I think what I like about this picture is that most of the objects are a simple still life—with books and plants and bottles—similar to what we have been working with in our assignments. He uses shading and highlighting, which we have talked about in class, and I like the detailing he has put into the reflection of the pail in the upper left. However, he has gone further and added a degree of surrealism, in which the drawings are coming off the page, marching in a circle, and then re-merging with their 2-D image. I think that it’s a nice display of how surrealism can be mixed with work similar to what we have been doing.

Escher’s mind-bending designs are quite influential in the context of contemporary graphic design. His impossible images are also frequently referenced in pop culture (for example, his staircase was mentioned in designing the different dreams in Inception, which is kind of cool).



Hofstadter, Douglas R. M.C. Escher: Visions of Symmetry. 2nd ed. New York City: Abrams Books, 2003. Print.

The M.C. Escher Company B.V. “M.C. Escher: The Official Website.”

--Andie MacDonald

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