M.C. Escher on the Flip-side
“… [Escher’s creativity] springs from his passionate pursuit of the visual poetry around him, and his irrepressible urge to share this poetry with others by passing it through the filter of his eye, his hand, his mind, and his heart.” ~ Douglas R. Hofstadter, Nov 2003 on M.C. Escher
As long as I can remember I’ve been an M.C. Escher fan, blown away by his unique perception of things. His ability to fill space with interlocking figures that come to life in their own way — with no gaps and no overlaps — is impossible. Yet there it is before my eyes. One has to wonder where Escher found his spark. Here’s one such place.
M.C. Escher’s Epiphany
Escher is legendary for shifting our frame of reference, encouraging us to see the world with fresh eyes. His art, much of which involves upside-down or half-turn symmetry, plays with our perceptions. But what initiated Escher’s child-like curiosity to view the world from different angles? The answer may surprise you. And it may actually help you with any challenges you’re facing today, inside or outside the world of art.
“Still Life and Street,” the image below, is one of M.C. Escher’s earliest prints of an impossible construction. I know, I’ve tried it on my desk. Escher joins in a single perspective a table covered with books and objects and a view of the street below.
There’s an entry in one of Escher’s Journals from his student days. He referenced a swimming instructor who decided to close the pool on Mondays. The instructor informed the children with a hand-written sign nailed to the door.
In Escher’s words:
“An English swimming teacher no longer felt like keeping his bathing establishment open on Mondays and wrote on a sign (he could barely write):
NOW NO SWIMS ON MON
He attached the sign by means of a single nail through the middle. Some angry boys, finding themselves in front of a closed door one Monday, turned the sign around 180 degrees and were amazed to see that it made no difference when read upside down.”
The story of the pool sign started Escher’s life-long fascination with symmetry. He saw something “rationally bazaar” from a few simple words which could be read exactly the same way right-side up or upside down.
It follows, the longer you look at Escher’s art, the more your mind attempts to wrap itself around what you’re seeing. Never satisfied with flat shapes, Escher discovered a way to bring his images to life, if only for a moment.
“The ‘flat shape’ irritates me — I feel as if I were shouting to my figures, ‘You are too fictitious for me; you just lie there static and frozen together; do something, come out of there and show me what you are capable of!’” ~ M.C. Escher
In 2003, on what would have been his 105th birthday, Google paid tribute to M.C. Escher with a self-drawing Google log (pictured above). The doodle was based on Escher’s famous 1948 sketch “Drawing Hands” (pictured below).
Through his art, M.C. Escher teaches us to see the visual poetry in the world. He encourages us to find simplicity in chaos. And he continues to challenge us to “get out there” and show the world what we can do.
I’m curious what kind of impact the other kids at the pool had on our world!
Hey there, I’m Michael, I’m a dad, writer, sales & marketing consultant, recruiter, life-long learner… oh and passionate Growler too. You can learn more about my services by visiting LinkedIn, and crawl into my stories right here on Medium.com.
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