Who is MC Escher? Learn more about the Dutch graphic artist

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MC Escher at work on “Sphere Surface with Fish” in his studio, late 1950s (Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões DC BY 2.0Going through Wikimedia Commons)

dutch engraver M. C. Escher math and art perfectly combined. From illustrations of hands drawing hands to landscapes that transform into birds, he has created dynamic illusory designs based on mathematical concepts such as paving and perspective.

During his creative career he produced a range of mind-blowing lithographs and etchings which were hugely popular with the public. Despite this fame, however, he continually struggled to find acceptance from art world critics, largely due to the highly scholarly nature of his work. While other famous artists were known to explore mathematical themes in their work, Escher’s art was also deeply tied to his love of patterns and graphic design, and therefore did not have the same narrative quality as critics thought necessary.

Here we will explore the life of MC Escher and take a closer look at some of the fascinating concepts he explored in his works.

Who is MC Escher?

M. C. Escher

Photo: Hans Peters (ANEFO) via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) – better known as M. C. Escher— was a Dutch graphic designer specializing in mathematically inspired artwork. He has created many mind-blowing woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints that play with geometry, symmetry, perspective and tessellation.

Early life

Escher grew up in the Netherlands and received formal training in School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, focusing particularly on graphic arts. After completing his studies, the young artist moved to Italy and remained there for more than 10 years. During this time he traveled around the country, making sketches of the Italian landscape and translating these drawings into striking black and white prints.

In 1935, Escher took another inspiring trip, this time to the 14th century palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. There he became fascinated by the repeating patterns that adorn the tiles and began to incorporate this same litany of shapes into his own works.

The art of MC Escher

During his lifetime, Escher produced 448 lithographs, woodcuts, and mezzotints, as well as over 2,000 drawings and sketches. Although Escher had no formal training in mathematics, it was the foundation – and often the inspiration – of his art.

Geometry

Geometry appeared in most of his prints through his use of several points of view (usually in the same drawing), formsand mathematical objects.

One of his favorite mathematical objects was the Möbius strip: a unilateral surface without borders. When Escher completed the iteration with red ants titled Moebius strip IIhe noted“An endless ring-shaped strip usually has two distinct surfaces, one inside and one outside. Yet on this strip nine red ants crawl one after another and roam the front as back, so the tape has only one surface.

tessellation

Tessellation sculpture celebrating MC Escher

A wall sculpture in Leeuwarden celebrating the artistic tilings of MC Escher (Photo: Bouwe Brouwer
CC BY 3.0Going through Wikimedia Commons)

In art, paving refers to covering a surface with flat geometric shapes without overlaps or gaps. Escher was inspired to incorporate tessellation into his own work after seeing it used in the intricate tile work of the Alhambra.

At first, he incorporated geometric grids into his sketches to develop patterns. Then he started making drawings with interlocking shapes – usually animals – in which each subject complemented the other perfectly, like puzzle pieces.

2D versus 3D

The relation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects was another recurring theme in Escher’s work. In particular, he was fascinated by how he could change a shape from 2D to 3D by adding more marks.

He demonstrated this transformation with drawings that transform into “reality” within the same composition. This is most famously illustrated in his work, Draw hands.

The artist’s legacy

Impossible Cube by MC Escher

Impossible Cube (Photo: 4C via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ignored by the art world for most of his life, Escher did not receive a retrospective exhibition of his work until he was 70 years old. Yet his innovative designs have had a lasting influence on math, art, and pop culture.

After his death, major exhibitions of his work were held around the world, each time attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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