As a self-professed math naïf, the exhibition Marc Bell Presents: The Magical World of M.C. Escher (20 January – 11 April 2010) completely blows my mind. Maurits Cornelis Escher used an intricate graphing system to create his visions of symmetry, unending tessellations and improbable buildings. Perhaps best known for his Drawing Hands, Reptiles, and Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror, all instructional mainstays for drawing classes, Escher created many more prints and drawings. A major component of his mature career was the diagramed geometric grids that he used to make interlocking designs. These designs utilize complex and varied shapes which fill the plane of the paper without leaving any voids. In the north gallery we have assembled his “Regular Division of the Plane” prints and drawings along with some of his preliminary sketches and equation notations. It is a unique opportunity to see the mind of Escher at work as he develops his elaborate compositions.
Besides the notations found at the edges of some artworks, Escher kept extensive notebooks tracking his various projects. A whimsical fellow, here is his synopsis of the print Reptiles, published in M.C. Escher: The Graphic Work:
The life cycle of a little alligator. Amid all kinds of objects, a drawing book lies open, and the drawing on view is a mosaic of reptilian figures in three contrasting shades. Evidently one of them has tired of lying flat and rigid amongst his fellows, so he puts one plastic-looking leg over the edge of the book, wrenches himself free and launches out into real life. He climbs up the back of a book on zoology and works his laborious way up the slippery slope of a set square to the highest point of his existence. Then after a quick snort, tired but fulfilled, he goes downhill again, via an ashtray, to the level surface, to that flat drawing paper, and meekly rejoins his erstwhile friends, taking up once more his function as an element of surface division.
M.C. ESCHER (Dutch, 1898-1972),
Reptiles, 1943, Bool #327, lithograph,
13 1/8 x 15 1/8 inches.
Courtesy of The Walker Collection.
All M. C. Escher's works and text © The M. C. Escher Company, Baarn, The Netherlands. All rights reserved. M. C. Escher ® is a registered trademark
The three contrasting shades mentioned are part of another primary concern for Escher; color composition. From the very beginning, Escher felt that individual motifs needed to be both recognizable and to have the same value or weight as the other motifs found within the composition. This requires that the motifs should have similar contrast and brightness. In the north gallery, you can see this tendency at work in the two representations of Sun and Moon.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. This exhibition holds almost 400 items created by Escher, the second-largest private collection in the world, courtesy of Rock J. Walker of Walker Fine Arts.
The exhibition traverses his early days spent drawing in Italy, through his interests in mirrored images, impossible buildings, and tessellations. We have cancelled lithographic stones, a chair covered in an Escher print and the work table from his studio.
If you are interested in finding out more about M.C. Escher’s life, you can take a curator highlight tour with Senior Curator Wendy Blazier this Tuesday at 2:30 pm for The Life and Art of M.C. Escher or on March 9th for M.C. Escher’s “Impossible” Objects and Scenes. Free with paid admission to Museum.