A print of a classic work of visual art from your HP laser printer is a great way to liven up your surroundings at home or the office. Many large high-resolution reproductions of iconic photographs, paintings, drawings and prints can be found with a quick search on Google Images, and they can be resized to handily print out on an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of photo paper or coverstock. For monochrome prints, you will achieve the best results from a laser printer versus an inkjet printer. To print color artwork, a photo inkjet printer will produce a better quality piece.
This month, we are going to take a quick look at the work of one of the most gifted and influential artists to come from the Netherlands, M.C. Escher.
For about fifty years, Maurits Cornelis Escher (17 June 1898 - 27 March 1972), known to his friends as Mauk, built a reputation for a prolific body of fastidiously precise visual art. Despite having no formal mathematical training, a 1936 journey across the Mediterranean Sea sparked an interest in topography, order and symmetry that was to become a hallmark of his work for the remainder of his life and career. Around this time, his brother Berend gave him a copy of George Pólya's academic paper on plane symmetry groups, which further catalyzed the surgically precise devotion to mathematical symmetry in his work.
Complexities Within Complexities
Much of Escher's work is known for its high attention to detail. Consider the 1935 lithograph Hand with Reflecting Sphere, a self-portrait of Escher, spherical mirror in hand, gazing at his reflection. Not only is the reflection captured with striking detail and perspective, but the reflection of the room surrounding Escher is also rendered with almost photographic precision. Escher also created a number of other similar self portraits, often creating a recursive effect through capturing himself in the act of creating the work.
Precise Geometric Patterns
Escher’s fascination with mathematics and symmetry manifested itself with the use of tessellations, tile patterns made up of one or more different shapes with no overlaps and no gaps. His Metamorphosis series utilized the altering of images into different tessellations to tell a story. In his 1938 woodcut Sky And Water I, we see a flock of birds merging at the horizon with a school of fish like a jigsaw puzzle, forming a background of sky and water. Toward the top of the picture, the birds gradually become more three-dimensional, whereas the fish become more three-dimensional toward the bottom.
"In the horizontal center strip there are birds and fish equivalent to each other,” remarked Escher. “We associate flying with sky, and so for each of the black birds the sky in which it is flying is formed by the four white fish which encircle it. Similarly swimming makes us think of water, and therefore the four black birds that surround a fish become the water in which it swims."
Paradoxes, Illusions & Impossibilities
In addition to being transfixed by mathematics and symmetry, Escher was particularly fond of creating impossible realities, often achieving this end through the use of optical illusions. His 1937 work Still Life And Street blends two realities in a natural but impossible way. In the foreground, we see a corner of a table, upon which are resting two stacks of books, a deck of playing cards, a jar of tobacco, an ashtray and a pipe. However, in the background, we see a row of houses with people gathered in the street. From one perspective, the houses look like bookends with miniature dolls between them. From the other perspective, the books, playing cards and tobacco paraphernalia appear to be outsized.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, optical illusions began to feature more prominently in Escher’s work. In Relativity (1953), a print that depicts a world impervious to the laws of gravity, we see two men climbing a staircase on the same side and in the same direction. However, each man is using a different face of each step.
Belvedere (1958) shows a building constructed in such a way that the pillars at the front support the back side of the top floor and vice versa. If that’s not mind-boggling enough, a ladder is shown extending from the inside of the middle floor to the outside of the top floor!
Ascending and Descending (1960) shows a group of monks circling a Penrose staircase, an impossible construction in which a set of stairs makes four right-angled turns, forming a continuous loop in such a way that a person could climb them forever and never reach the top. Many believe Ascending and Descending to be an observation on the futility of unconditional conformity. Indeed, the Dutch refer to tedious and repetitive work situations that offer no practical purposes or results as “monks’ jobs.”
Penrosian impossibility was further explored with Waterfall (1961), a print that depicts the water from a waterfall running downhill along the water path before reaching the top of the aqueduct. In this picture, the walls of the aqueduct are constructed in such a way to give the visual impression that the structure slopes downhill. However, if the water is flowing downward along the walls of the aqueduct, why is there a waterfall at the top of the structure?
A Legacy of Brilliance
Although M.C. Escher died in 1972, his ideas continue to exert a tremendous influence in the areas of science and art. In addition to his ideas being applied in psychology, philosophy, logic, crystallography, topology and other scientific areas, numerous visual artists still ponder his unique visual concepts. In addition, his work is referenced widely in popular culture, particularly Relativity, which Matt Groening referenced in his creations Life In Hell, The Simpsons, and Futurama. This piece also inspired the music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Otherside.”