Wednesday, May 11, 2011

M.C. Escher: Impossible Realities

M.C. Escher
One of the things that visual art does at its best is allow us to see the world through fresh eyes, reframing the ordinary as extraordinary.

Sometimes, however, the artworks become so iconic and familiar as to need reframing themselves in order to be seen freshly.

M.C. Escher, despite being treated for years by art critics as a piece of gum on their mental shoe, something nasty and annoying that won’t go away, has found his way into the general consciousness and popular culture as a prime example of the unfamiliar made familiar.

Escher was an extraordinary printmaker who slipped between the worlds of art, mathematics and psychology like a psychic eel, finding the distinctions others see as barriers easily porous. He brought back from his introspective journeys evidence of impossible worlds, postcards from inner space; not the fevered dream state imaginings of the Surrealists, but hard edged artifacts of geometric purity.

Through some Klein bottle-like twist of inter-dimensional sleight-of-hand, Escher connected the tenuous vapor of imagination to the rigid solidity of mathematical certainty; in the process giving each a wrenching turn that reveals their hidden sides.

Escher’s reorganizations of space and planes, his defiance of gravity and time and his insistence on showing us the impossible not only as possible but as in-your-face obvious as a brick in your hand, has become the stuff of T-shirts, mugs and desktop wallpapers.

The challenge, as I pointed out in my previous post on M.C. Escher, is to see his artwork as artwork, free from cultural baggage. I think the most promising path for this lies in his less familiar work, delving into the pieces not often reproduced, particularly his early work, and viewing it side by side with his more iconic pieces.

M.C. Escher: Impossible Realities is an exhibition currently at the Akron Art Museum in Ohio that promises to do just that, featuring 130 works, drawn largely from the extensive Escher collection of the Herakleidon Museum in Athens, Greece.

I don’t know if the images above are in the Akron show or not, I just picked a few of my favorites, some iconic, some less so. M.C. Escher: Impossible Realities is on view at the Akron Art Museum until June 5, 2011. The museum’s Facebook page has some photographs of the installation.

For those, like myself, who can’t easily get to Akron, there are numerous books on Escher. One I recommend in particular is The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher by Bruno Ernst, which not only features some of his early and lesser-known works, but delves into his influences, process and working methods.

I’ve also attempted to collect some web resources below. There is an official M.C. Escher site, maintained by a foundation that Escher himself started. They seem to have submitted to the kind of web image paranoia that makes them reluctant to post images large enough to be really useful in many cases, but their selection may be the most complete.

There is now an Escher Museum in the Hague, called Escher in het Paleis (Escher in the Palace), though their site doesn’t seem to have a gallery of images.

World of Escher, despite its commercial bent, has some larger images. Note that there are more in the drop-down list than are displayed as thumbnails. Art Renewal has good images, if a limited selection. Cuidad de la pintura has a nice selection (note second page).

The National Gallery in Washington has a good selection, as well as a page on his life and work.

The M.C. Escher bio on Wikipedia has a fairly extensive list of linked images, most of which are linked in turn to larger versions.

If you spend some time with Escher, looking at both the familiar and lesser-known works, you may discover that he has more ways than you realized to show you the ordinary as extraordinary.

6 thoughts on “M.C. Escher: Impossible Realities

  1. Dave Dubé

    I first saw the Escher works at the Vorpal gallery in San Francisco in late 1970. My welcome back to ‘reality’ from my sojourn in SE Asia where I had my fill of unreality. I was hooked on his art from that point on. I have EVERYthing Escher that’s fit to print. I know what you mean about recognizing his art for what it is. I especially liked some of his street scenes that begin on a desktop – bookends, so to speak. Thanks for another great web resource!

  2. kathryn

    I’ve always found Eschers art fascinating …almost until it was everywhere…happy to look at it again with fresh eyes. I can also highly recommend his book “The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher”…it’s a great book!!

  3. Randall Ensley

    This show, Impossible Realities, was recently at the New Britain Museum of American Art. My wife took me for our anniversary and what a great present. I encourage any Escher fan to attend this show if it comes to your area. There are about 130 Escher works in the exhibit and to see them up close and not in a book was overwhelming and moving. One of my favorite and most influential artists…the best art show I have ever attended!

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