M C Escher
We adore chaos because we love to produce order.
Do me a favour and check out all the pictures I have linked below. Preferably before you start reading the article.
Hand With Reflecting Sphere : http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/italian-period/hand-with-reflecting-sphere/
Drawing Hands : http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/back-in-holland/drawing-hands/
Hopefully, you have taken a look at all these pictures. If you haven’t, please do. We have seen them so many times on so many types of media. They are very popular images made by a not so popular man. Unlike Van Gogh, Vermeer, Michealangelo, M F Hussain, Da Vinci, his name doesn’t naturally come to our minds when we encounter one of his works. They are a publication staple which we seem to see everywhere and they never fail to catch our eyes and yet, we don’t know who made them.
The mystery man in question is called M C Escher.
Maurits Cornelis Escher is undoubtedly one of the most interesting artists to ever live.
I have been unequivocally smitten by his artwork since the time I saw it for the first time. It was his Relativity and I think I saw it in some magazine.
But that was a long long time ago. I didn’t even think that it was the result of a single mind probably sitting alone by himself, furiously scratching away on the stone, to let out the inspiration which has filled his brain to the brim with a crazy but amazing idea that needs to be pulled in and held forcibly by his mind and brought to life. He might’ve ignored one or two cries of a hungry stomach because this was more important and who knows if this inspiration would strike him again. And even if it did, would this unbending sense of purpose and belief which he has in that precious moment return when he came back from lunch? Or would he just dismiss it as a stupid idea with no backbone or maybe he would lose the ability to give this idea or inspiration a form for the world, and more importantly, for himself, to celebrate.
I don’t know if it happened this way or not but in my mind, I see it happening this way.
Because if I am honest with myself, I have done away with thousands of ideas because of procrastination on bringing these ideas to life. And even if I have found the inspiration to start, I haven’t maintained the motivation to continue till the work was finished.
Now Escher here, was born in the Netherlands to an engineer and his wife. He was always a sick child and did not do well in studies. In fact, he failed the second grade and had to be put in a special school when he was just seven years old. When he grew up, he studied architecture for a while but then he failed in several papers ( mainly due to a persistent skin infection) and had to switch to decorative arts.
In 1922, he went on a study tour to Italy and Spain, where he was highly taken with the geometrical patterns and repetetive colourful designs on the walls, tiles and ceilings in the moorish artichectural buildings he encountered. This influenced his own artwork where he has incorporated patterns and geometry in his designs.
His love for Italian countryside and architecture led him to return and eventually settle down when he married in 1924. Jetta Umiker was a swiss woman who, like Escher, was in love with Italy. They had three sons together.
During the world war II, the political climate in Italy under Mussolini became unbearable to Escher and he and his family left this beloved land and moved to Switzerland where they stayed for two years. It is said that this decision was triggered when Escher’s eldest son was forced to wear the uniform of Balila in school which was an Italian Fascist Youth Organisation. It was also during this time that he became obssessed with the mathematics of tessellation. (Tesselation is a process in which a plane surface is completely covered by a geometrical shape repeated again and again, leaving no gaps or spaces in between.)
Mathematicians have opened the gate leading to an extensive domain.
His family had to move again to Belgium and then back to Neatherlands because of the war and by this time he had stopped taking study tours and drawing out in the field. He retreated to his studio and focussed intently on his work. Most of his best-known artworks were made during this time. After 1953, when he was 55 years old, he started lecturing widely.
In 1962, he fell sick again and had to cancel a series of lectures in America and even stopped creating artworks for a while.
He created his last artwork in 1962, which was titled “Snakes” which has several interlocking circles of various sizes in a disc shape with the illusion of infinite circles as we move to the centre of the disc. Moreover, there are three snakes curled up along on the outer part of the disc. Now, I could attempt to describe it in a more deeper and artistic way about my perception of it’s purpose and meaning but I don’t think I can describe it better than this simple line on Escher’s wikipedia page-
“The image encapsulates Escher’s love of symmetry, of interlocking patterns, and at the end of his life, of his approach to infinity.”
At the very beginning of this article, I stated that we see his art everywhere. And I have wondered why this is the case. If have to attempt to answer this question I guess I would say that the reason is their versatality and the fact that they are very open to interpretation. They are simple in their titles and descriptions but maintain that factor of complexity which throws their whole purpose into question. They can’t be categorized into black or white but lie within a whole range of grey and are flexible enough to shift their meaning with our different whims and moods.
Maybe it’s the stereotype of a tortured artist but I still imagine him leaning over his work table, etching his design desperately onto the paper, with his equipment strewn around in a mess in the backdrop. To be honest, it very well could’ve just been him sitting peacefully, at night, after dinner, holding a cigar in his hand, thinking calmly of shapes and geometry and architecture and how they can represent a state of mind, then drawing lines with a scale every now and then on a rough piece of paper and then relaxing back into his chair and reverting back to his cigar and his thoughts.
At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important – M.C. Escher
But then again, who knows?