The Art of M.C. Escher

by Kim Kuhn

We are going to take a departure from music and talk about art this month, specifically the art of M.C. Escher.  I picked this artist because he is appreciated not only by the art lover, but by the non art-trained teenager as well.

So let’s take a look at M.C. Escher.  No, not M.C. Hammer, (Can’t Touch This), Maurits Cornelis Escher was born in Leeuwarden, Holland on June 17, 1898, the same year Theodore Roosevelt defeated the Spanish at the Battle of San Juan Hill.  He was a sickly child and received poor grades in school.  The highlight of his day was, of course, art.  However, his father decided he should receive scientific training and since he was gifted in art, Escher should become an architect.  His architectural training didn’t last long, but he did keep in contact with one of the teachers at the architectural school, Samuel Jesserun de Mesquita.  He kept his relationship with him until 1944 when de Mesquita, his wife and family were taken and put to death by the Germans.

Escher and his family were largely supported by his father until 1951 when he finally earned a portion of his income from the production of his prints.  During his lifetime, he was twice arrested after being falsely accused.  The first time was when he was living in Italy.   A woman claimed he had an evil expression and was accused of threatening the life of the Italian leader, Mussolini.  The second time was during his travels to Spain.  He was intensely interested in the old walls in Cartegena.  A policeman thought this was highly suspicious; a foreigner making drawings of Spanish defense works so he was arrested.  After a while, he was allowed to leave, but he never got his drawings back.   He was still upset when he discussed this incident thirty years later.

Escher died on March 27, 1972 in Laren, Holland.

Escher’s works are completely unique.  He does not follow the impressionistic style of Monet nor does he follow the expressionistic style of Picasso.  Escher focuses on lines, spaces, and sometimes optical illusions.  Find, the lithographs, “Relativity” and “Ascending and Descending” and see if you can tell which way is up.  Also, look at “Reptiles” where lizards appear to jump out of the page and back into it.  Some other fun ones that exemplify distortion are “Balcony,” “Print Gallery” and “Still Life and Street.”