What You Didn't Know About M.C. Escher
As long as I can remember I’ve been an M.C. Escher fan, blown away by his unique mind-bending perception of things. His ability to fill space with interlocking figures that come to life in their own way — with no gaps and no overlaps — is impossible. Yet there it is before your eyes. Where did Escher find his spark? How did he begin seeing the world from a different perspective? Here’s one such account and how it may inspire your curiosity too.
M.C. Escher's Epiphany
Escher is legendary for shifting our frame of reference, encouraging us to see the world with fresh eyes. His art, much of which involves upside-down or half-turn symmetry, plays with our perceptions. But what initiated Escher’s child-like curiosity to view the world from different angles? The answer may surprise you. And it may actually help you with challenges you’re facing today, inside and outside the world of art.
“Still Life and Street,” the image below, is one of M.C. Escher’s earliest prints of an impossible construction. Escher joins in a single perspective a table covered with books and objects and a view of the street below.
Still Life and Street, (above) 1937, woodcut, Cornelius Van S. Roosevelt Collection
All M.C. Escher works © Cordon Art-Baarn-the Netherlands.
There’s an entry in one of Escher’s Journals from his student days. He referenced a swimming instructor who decided to close the pool on Mondays. The instructor informed the children with a poorly written sign nailed to the door. In Escher’s words:
“An English swimming teacher no longer felt like keeping his bathing establishment open on Mondays and wrote on a sign (he could barely write): NOW NO SWIMS ON MON
"He attached the sign by means of a single nail through the middle. Some angry boys, finding themselves in front of a closed door one Monday, turned the sign around 180 degrees and were amazed to see that it made no difference when read upside down.”
The story of the pool sign started Escher’s life-long fascination with symmetry. He saw something “rationally bazaar” from a few simple words which could be read exactly the same way right-side up or upside down.
It follows, the longer you look at Escher’s art, the more your mind attempts to wrap itself around what you’re seeing. Never satisfied with flat shapes, Escher discovered a way to bring his images to life, if only for a moment.
“The ‘flat shape’ irritates me — I feel as if I were shouting to my figures, ‘You are too fictitious for me; you just lie there static and frozen together; do something, come out of there and show me what you are capable of!’” ~ M.C. Escher
Through his art, M.C. Escher reminds us to see the visual poetry in the world. He encourages us to find simplicity in chaos. And he continues to challenge us to “get out there” and show the world what we can do.