Friday, 06 November 2015

The Amazing World of MC Escher

His graphic, puzzling images have popular appeal– could this be why MC Escher is shunned by the cognoscenti?

Written by Hugh St Clair
Hugh-St-Clair-colour-176MC Escher is as yet not considered a serious artist by the British art establishment. Only one of his works is represented in a national collection – at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum – and that was purchased by the geography department.

However, he has wide appeal. This exhibition, transferring from the Scottish National Gallery, shows his monochrome woodcuts and lithographs, and pencils and watercolours of puzzles, patterns and enigmas that have enthralled rock stars, teenage boys, fabric designers and maths professors alike.

The drawings are arranged in clear chronological order, the first room devoted to portraits. The self-portrait at 25 years old is of a troubled man avoiding the gaze of the viewer. Indeed, according to some he was bit strait-laced. The artist, born in Holland in 1898, kept aloof from the modern world, eschewing the 1960s counterculture who worshipped him. He refused to work with rock star Mick Jagger: ‘Mr Escher to you’, he said, when addressed as Maurits. He also turned down Stanley Kubrick’s request to help on a film.

It was a trip to the Alhambra in 1922 and the revelation of its extraordinary interlocking Islamic patterns that set him on a course to create some of his most complex visual designs, which he called Regular Divisions of the Plane. Over the next decade, he travelled to Italy and made drawings and woodcuts that seem like illustrations from a fairytale. Escher was in his mid 40s when he took his work to a more surreal level and gained a cult following. Works such as Magic Mirror and the Three Spheres series were carefully constructed distortions. However, he had no contact with the Surrealism movement, and remarked that a great influence on his work was Hieronymus Bosch. He described himself as an artist interested in ‘the language of matter, space and the universe’. This exhibition shows his extraordinary vision and the creation of a mysterious world that went beyond his great skill as a draughtsman. His influence is apparent in many films: The Lord Of The Rings and the Addams Family cartoons reconstruct the contradicting vanishing points found in his work Relativity.

Until 17 January 2016 at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, London SE21: 020-8693 5254,

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