Artist Stories

Far Beyond Illusion: M.C Escher And The Illustration Of The Impossible

Rute Ferreira 4 July 2018 min Read

Known for representing the impossible constructions and creating a world where the figurative and the abstract meet and touch, Maurits Cornelis Escher would have turned a hundred this year. He was also known for a mathematical fixation and for the geometric and symmetrical forms of his illustrations which are a visual challenge. Are you ready for a little math effort?

M.C Escher was born on June 17, 1898, in Leeuwarden. His father was an engineer, which perhaps explains the many representations of constructions in the artist's work. Little "Mauk", as he was known to friends and family, did not do very well at school. Even despite studying in a special school, as he was a sickly child, he never achieved high grades. Nevertheless, he excelled in drawing classes. In 1919, Escher entered the College of Architecture, but disease again hindered his success in academic life, this time it was a skin disease. Escher transferred to a decorative arts course, and with the experience gained in drawing and woodcut classes, he left the faculty in 1922 and went traveling through Italy and Spain. This change seems to have paid off, after all, travel provided him with numerous influences that would permeate his work from then on, and he also met in Italy the love of his life, Jetta Umiker, whom he married in 1924. [caption id="attachment_13576" align="alignnone" width="995"]escher's illustrations M.C Escher, Still Life with Spherical Mirror, 1934, National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA[/caption] Escher can be considered one of the best representatives of op art as he was an expert at creating illusions through the volumes and shapes he included in his illustrations. It was since his visit to Spain, still in the 1920s, that he was charmed by the Islamic mosaics and their geometric patterns, which he tried to incorporate in his own works. [caption id="attachment_13572" align="aligncenter" width="608"]escher's illustrations M.C Escher, Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada[/caption] Hand with Reflecting Sphere (above) is a self-portrait. Escher holds the sphere that reflects his face, soon recognized by the thick beard the artist wore. The way he holds the ball, as well as the position of the image, reminds me of the way we hold our cell phones to take 'selfies' nowadays. More than a self-portrait, this photo is still a reflection (and this was not a pun), because besides showing himself, as it happens in the self-portraits normally, the artist sees himself. In 1935, the year in which this illustration was made, things did not go so well in Italy, already led by Mussolini. Escher, who had generally no interest in current affairs, decided to move out from there with his family after his eldest son, George, had been forced to wear the Opera Nazionale Ballila uniform at school. The Escher lived in Switzerland, where unfortunately the artist was very unhappy since he was accustomed to Italy and very fond of living there. [caption id="attachment_13578" align="aligncenter" width="967"]Escher's Illustrations M.C Escher, Relativity, 1953, Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA[/caption] Escher's work has much of the Surrealism and Expressionism that marked the first half of the twentieth century. Two years after moving to Switzerland with his family, Escher spent time in Belgium and then went to the Netherlands, where he lived until 1970. In Relativity (above), Escher presents a world in which the Law of Gravity makes no sense. In fact, a world where nothing, apparently, makes sense. People float by the margins of the illustration, stairs are placed in impossible areas, doors appear almost out of nowhere. It is a chaotic deconstruction, a symbol of what Escher once said: "We adore chaos because we love to produce order." And he produced this order within the very chaos of this drawing. In Ascending and Descending (below) note: where do the stairs bring us? Where are these people going from/to? Let your gaze have fun (or not) with this enigmatic work, an infinite descend and an infinite ascent. How can one not be enchanted by it?   [caption id="attachment_13579" align="aligncenter" width="740"]escher's illustrations M.C Escher, Ascending and Descending, 1960, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada[/caption] In 1972, a few months before turning 73, Maurits Cornelis Escher died at the Hilversum Hospital. The artist already had health problems and had even undergone a surgery a few years before. Since beginning his work in the 1920s, Escher had only had a hiatus in his artistic career in 1962 due to health problems. His work is composed of hundreds of illustrations (no painting) and loaded with mysterious senses and surrealist approaches.

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