Culture Maker: MC Escher
M.C. Escher is one of the best known artist/mathematicians of all time. He is known for his intricate pencil drawings that evoke optical illusions of space. I was lucky enough to see many of his works in a retrospective exhibition some time in the 90’s, though at the time I was bored to tears to have been brought to the show with my dad, the math teacher.
Having had a father whose idea of a fun time was to create Tesselations and color them in actually has come in handy for me as a textile designer. Once I graduated from SAIC, I began teaching a course called Contemporary Textile Print Production in the Fibers Department at SAIC. One of the most basic and easy to learn techniques for making things repeat is to create tessellations, or “puzzle pieces” that repeat infinitely in all directions.
“Math can be fun” I usually told my students while rolling my eyes. (blank stares from college students)
About the Artist:
MC Escher was a Dutch artist and mathematician who became incredibly famous for his drawings and prints, which were made up of deeply fascinating patterns, and images transforming into other images. He had the ability to transform the ordinary into the impossible in such a way that it has left viewers salivating for decades.
Metamorphosis 3, pictured above, is one of Escher’s most famous pieces, and it extends in real life to a grand total of 23 feet long! One of Escher’s better known tessellations, the Metamorphosis series are what he called transformation prints — where his tessellations become abstracted and are able to transform into other tessellations. The chess board become the lizards which become hexagons which become bees which become fish which become doves which become a city in the Italian countryside that Escher spent a lot of time sketching.
The son of an engineer and having briefly studied architecture and then later graphic art, Escher transforms architecture using perspective to create what he called impossible spaces. Escher’s work makes you see that “reality is wondrous, comprehensible, and fascinating.” One of his signature moves was combining different vantage points like looking up and looking down, creating a composition that leaves you looking at life from all angles.
Besides the Italian countryside, Escher also deeply loved the architecture of the palace Alhambra in Granada, Spain which is known for its Moorish interlocking patterned tile work. The National Gallery of Art describes this relationship saying, “This print is one of Escher’s first to show the influence of Moorish tile work, with its abstract, positive-negative geometric shapes.”
Escher considered himself an artist but also a mathematician — and came up with a theory he called the “regular division of the plane,” which he described as “A plane, which should be considered limitless on all sides, can be filled with or divided into similar geometric figures that border each other on all sides without leaving any empty spaces. This can be carried on to infinity according to a limited number of systems.”
“This is arguably as true of fiction or music as it is of Escher’s brand of geometric sorcery. And it also, in a way, sums up the genius of Escher himself, an orderly man who made inexhaustibly extraordinary things.” (Guardian, 2015)