Friday, December 11, 2009

Master Class: The Shifting Perspectives of M.C. Escher

   Like every college student of the 1970s, I had posters on the wall by the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. Most of us thought that his trippy images had to be created while under the influence of some kind of drugs. It seems more likely that he just had a vision that allowed him to see the world from his own unique viewpoint and he was able to express his artwork with a consummate skill in lithography. Here are many of my favorites.

Portrait of the Artist

Puddle 1952 - A strong graphic image that implies a world on three levels: the sky and trees reflected in the puddle, the muddy ground and the prints of a human being and vehicle.

Three Worlds 1955 - Escher explored the same idea a few years later with this image. Once again, we see three distinct levels: the reflection of sky and trees in the water, the leaves floating on the surface and the fish peering up from below.

Early in his life, Escher travelled around Europe and at one point visited the Alhambra, a moorish palace built by Muslims in Spain. According to the laws of Islam, it was not permitted to create graphic representations of natural objects, so the moors developed a style of graphic design using abstract, repeating images, or tessellations. Escher copied many of these designs, studied them and created his own unique ways of filling a space with alternating shapes.

Verbum 1942 - One example of his tessellations has lizards, frogs, fish and birds subtly changing shapes as you move your eyes over the image.

Circle Limit 4 1960 - Escher did a number of these round tessallations; this one alternates between angels and devils.

Cycle 1938 - One of his earlier tesselations has a man gradually turning into the tessellated image as he runs down the steps. The tessellations, in turn, merge into the solid, three-dimensional blocks of the building.

Ascending and Descending 1960 - In this fascinating exploration of the ambiguity of perspective, Escher has two groups of men on the pictured stairs: one going up and one going down. Oddly, this optical illusion shows that both groups continuously keep going down or up even though they walk in a circular pattern.

Gravity 1952 - This image shows a regular solid - a star shaped dodecahedron populated by 12 four-legged cratures.

Reptiles 1943 - Here the miniature reptiles crawl across objects on a desk, subtly merge into the tessellated drawing and then emerge once again as a real object.

Circle Limit 3 1959 - In many ways, Escher was foreseeing fractal imagery in that he has his tessellations maintain the same pattern even at other levels of scale. As you move outwards, the pattern multiplies into infinity.

Convex and Concave 1955 - One of Escher's most popular images takes advantage of another optical illusion, the ambiguity of shapes. As you look closely at the picture, you can see objects that sometimes look pushed in (concave) and other times pushed outwards (convex).

House of Stairs 1951 - Plays with the concept of relativity. Both the top and bottom half of the image show the same stairway, just viewed from different perspectives.

Day and Night 1938 - Tessellated geese fly across a landscape that is mirrored in each half of the image.

Other World 1947 - Another picture that plays with relativity. Here we see the same scene viewed simultaneously from three different viewpoints.

Drawing Hands 1948 - Escher often created pictures that explored the relationship between two- and three-dimensional images. Here the line is blurred, forcing the viewer to determine where one stops and the other begins.

Smaller and Smaller 1956 - Another fractal-like image that reduces the pattern by half repeatedly as you move closer to the center.

Print Gallery 1956 - This complex image is cyclic and includes elements of magnification, transformation and shifted perspective. If we enter the gallery at the doorway in the lower right and move clockwise, we see a young man looking at a print of a harbor scene. Moving around the circle, we see that the harbor scene shows numerous buildings, one of which is the print gallery, itself.

Waterfall 1961 - Another distortion of perspective that creates an impossible situation. As the water from the waterfall falls into a pool, it then drains into a channel which zig-zags several times and then appears at the top of the waterfall.

Relativity 1953 - Probably Escher's most popular lithograph. The people inhabiting this space live in three separate planes, each oblivious to the others.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool, I hadn't seen some of those before.