Sunday, October 5, 2014

Maurits Cornelis Escher

The Works of M. C. Escher
 by Jozsef Bordas

Maurits Cornelis Escher was born on June 17, 1898 in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. As a child, Escher received lessons in carpentry from a contractor's apprentice, and the skills he learned would eventually be useful to him in his work with woodcuts and linoleum cuts. He attended a public high school in Arnhem where his art teacher, impressed by his artistic skills, taught him how to make linoleum cuts and encouraged him to continue his artistic endeavors. Escher's first print was produced in 1916, and the following year he sent a sample of his prints to the graphic artist R. N. Roland Holst. Holst was impressed as well with Escher's work, and in 1918 Escher visited Holst, who taught him to produce woodcuts. Escher attended the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem in hopes of pursuing a career in engineering, as his father and brothers had, but Samuel Jessurum de Mesquita, an art professor at the school, saw his work and served as his mentor. After receiving his education, Escher married and spent time traveling in both Spain and Italy from 1924 to 1935, producing art inspired by his travels during these years. In 1935 Escher and his family moved to Switzerland, then to Belgium in 1937, and then back to the Netherlands in 1941. Escher continued to produce art until his death on March 27, 1972.
Fig. 1: This sketch of beetles and butterflies illustrates the prevalence of geometric influences in Escher's work. (Taken from M.C. Escher: Visions of Symmetry) 
 In terms of his artistic style, it is easy to recognize the influence of Escher's engineering background. Many of his works depict structures, usually of peculiar dimensions or comprised structurally in a way that does not make logical sense (see Fig. 4). These are usually referred to as the "impossible constructions" works. Another large category many of his works fall into is based more on geometric patterns, the inspiration of which Escher drew from the Moorish architecture in Alhambra, Spain. The works in this group fall into several subcategories. The first category is those works in which multiple copies of a single shape are used to fill in a region (such as in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2), and the shapes are either translations, axial rotations, or glide reflections of one another. Another variant is the "mosaic", in which completely different shapes are used to fill in a space. A variation on the first type is the "evolution", in which repeating shapes are gradually transformed into new shapes. 

Fig. 2: Horsemen is an example of one of Escher's geometric works. (Taken from
Fig. 3: This drawing of a mosque in Cordoba shows Escher's inspirations from architecture. In addition, it also hints at the concept the infinite that Escher explored in his artwork. (Taken from M.C. Escher, His Life and Complete Graphic Work)
Although the number of works Escher produced using these geometric techniques is extensive, his work was not limited to two-dimensional drawings. Certain pictures show transitions from the two-dimensional patterns into the three-dimensional world, and the aforementioned "impossible constructions" works have a more three-dimensional and realistic-looking representation of the objects portrayed. Escher also experimented with drawing reflections, which provide an intriguing new perspective of the world. Escher preferred to work with black and white due to the sharp contrast it creates in the picture. Very few of his works are in color, and these tend to be the geometric pictures, with each different repeating shape being its own distinct color. The geometric works rely heavily on the perception of positive and negative space (Fig. 2), while the three-dimensional drawings usually incorporate vanishing points to provide a sense of depth.
Fig. 4: Sketch of House of Stairs. This sketch (and the completed final product) are examples of the "impossible constructions" artwork that helped make Escher famous. (Taken from M.C. Escher, His Life and Complete Graphic Work)
The reason I chose to research M. C. Escher is because I have always been a fan of his artwork and I hoped to learn more about both him and his art through this assignment. Escher found ways of presenting the world in peculiar new perspectives that do not cease to amaze me. The breadth of different styles he used is also impressive, and the imagination that is present in all of his pieces inspires me to try to achieve the same level of creativity.

Works Cited
Bool, F.H.; Kist, J.R.; Locher, J.L.; Wierda, F. M.C. Escher, His Life and Complete Graphic Work. New York : Harry N.
     Abrams, Inc., 1982. Print.
Escher, Maurits Cornelis. Escher on Escher: Exploring the Infinite. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. Print.

Escher, Maurits Cornelis. Th Graphic Work of M.C. Escher. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc, 1960. Print.
Schattschneider, Doris. M.C. Escher: Visions of Symmetry. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2004. Print.

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