The Magical World of M. C. Escher

by Rick de Yampert

Maurits Cornelis Escher wanted to capture infinity and cast it onto

To that end, the Dutch graphic artist created lithographs, woodcuts
and mezzotints of interlocking reptiles, strange creatures and birds in
flight that metamorphosed in and out of each other. He depicted
twisted dragons, and ants crawling eternally on a Mobius strip. He
created “impossible constructions” that depicted buildings,
staircases and spheres that seem geometrically precise yet, upon
close inspection, are as surreal as anything by Dali, Bosch or Kafka.

“It can apparently happen that someone . . . can feel ripen in oneself
a conscious wish to use his imaginary images to approach infinity as
purely and as closely as possible,” Escher wrote in his essay
“Approaches to Infinity,” published not long before his death in 1972.

“The Magical World of M.C. Escher,” on exhibit Jan. 26 through March
25 at the Museum of Art – DeLand, includes more than 150 of the
artist’s works. The exhibition features not only the Dutchman’s self described
“more or less fantastic pictures” but also his realistic
graphic works inspired by trips into the Italian countryside when he
lived in Rome from 1923 to 1935.

Born in the Netherlands in 1898, Escher attended the Haarlem
School of Architecture and Decorative Arts from 1919 to 1922, where
he quickly abandoned his intention to pursue architecture in order to
study graphic arts under Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita.

The European art world was in upheaval – and in thrall – to such
radical movements as Cubism with its blatant use of angles and
perspective-bending, multiple viewpoints; Dada and its free-for-all
hijinks; Surrealism with its embrace of the irrational; and De Stijl
(right in Escher’s homeland) with its almost pure use of geometric

Yet there is no record that the young Escher noticed or had any
significant exposure to these artistic explosions. Instead, the course
of Escher’s artistic path was forever altered when he visited Granada
in Spain in 1922, where he was astonished by the intricate
architecture of the 14th-century Moorish palace, Alhambra.

“Escher always wanted to be a graphic artist – he never wanted to be
a painter,” says George Bolge, chief executive officer of the Museum
of Art – DeLand. “He was always fascinated with the line and how
that can describe an object, whereas painters in a sense form the
line between volumes of color.”

Indeed, in his essay “Approaches to Infinity,” Escher writes: “No one
can draw a line that is not a boundary line. Every line splits a
singularity into a plurality. Every closed contour, no matter what its
shape, whether a perfect circle or an irregular random form, evokes
in addition the notions of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ and the suggestion of
‘near’ and ‘far away,’ of ‘object’ and ‘background.’ ”

And Escher was fascinated by another sort of line, Bolge notes:
“Escher had an analytical mind, and he was concerned with the line
between the metaphysical and reality.”

That’s evident in “Magic Mirror,” a 1946 lithograph in which a gaggle
of winged dragons circle into and out of a mirror – and thus
(seemingly) into two- dimensional reality and back out into three-dimensional

“Waterfall,” a 1961 lithograph, depicts a canal that weaves through
an Alhambra-like structure – but the work tricks the viewer’s eye into
sensing that the canal’s waters flow upward and back down,
perpetually and into infinity.

While Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” and
other Cubist paintings astonished viewers with their depiction of
multiple viewpoints within one work, they have nothing on such
Escher works as “Up and Down” (lithograph, 1947) and “Relativity”
(lithograph, 1953).

Escher’s prints “bear witness to his amazement and wonder at the
laws of nature which operate in the world around us,” Bolge writes in
the exhibition’s sizable catalogue. “By keenly considering and
analyzing the observations that he made, Escher ended up in the
domain of mathematics even though he had absolutely no training or
knowledge in this exact science.

“Escher’s technical mastery is unthinkable, making his most
imaginative subjects convincing – sometimes frighteningly so. That
his imagination is, to say the least, eccentric, cannot be denied. His
work is at once surrealistic, representational and macabre. Escher is
mathematician, photographer, architect, and visionary. He is all these
things, and more: an artist.”


Museum of Art - DeLand
600 N. Woodland Blvd.

Museum of Art - DeLand Downtown
100 N. Woodland Blvd.

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