M.C. Escher’s visions of strange worlds, impossible objects, and incredible tesselations form an extraordinary bridge between art and mathematics.
Critics often revile Escher and try to dismiss him as a creator of “decorative patterns” and “visual tricks”; and of course, he can’t possibly be a great artist because he’s (ugh!) popular with the (gasp!) masses! His images have been reproduced on countless posters, mugs, T-shirts, et cetera, which you’ve undoubtedly seen in a college dorm somewhere. Many of his images have become cultural icons to the point of being clichés, which is unfortunate because that makes it difficult to see them with the fresh eyes they deserve.
If the purpose of art is to communicate, Escher does that admirably, and he has definite things to say. If the purpose of art is to affect our emotions, Escher does that as well. He forces us to confront the possibility that our comfortable confidence in the reality of our senses may not be well founded. He demonstrates that what we think is visual truth may be illusion, and things we think unrelated may in fact be unexpectedly connected.
His thought-provoking juxtapositions of visual elements, disorienting perspective, startling geometry, unexpected spatial relationships and obsessively recursive surface patterns can halt someone in their tracks when they first encounter his work. People can become captivated by Escher’s images to an extraordinary degree. (You can see my own fascination with him in this early page from my webcomic.)
Escher mastered several printmaking techniques: woodcuts, wood engravings, even the arcane and difficult art of mezzotint, but the majority of his works are created with stone lithography, also a very demanding process.
The Official M.C. Escher Website is actually well done and has a fairly extensive gallery of his work, arranged by periods of the artist’s life. It also includes a biography, links to other sites of interest and short video interviews with Escher.
The official site’s gallery images are a bit small; there are larger ones on unofficial sites like: The Oldest Escher Collection on the Web and World of Escher (which has a lot of commercial stuff for sale, but the prints in the gallery have good-sized enlargements).
Some additional sites of interest: an Illustrated essay; The Mathematical Art of M.C. Escher on the Mathacademy site, fan site Neal’s Escher Page (with a nice list of links), Escher for Real (attempts to make actual objects that duplicate, at least from one angle, some of Escher’s “impossible” objects) and Tesselations.org, a site that explains tesselations, highlights Escher’s tesselations and shows you how to create some yourself.
None of the web images of his prints can compare with the reproductions in good books. M.C. Escher : 29 Master prints is wonderfully large and the reproductions are excellent. The Magic of M. C. Escher (J. L. Locker) is much more extensive and wonderfully done (out of print, but still available), and M. C. Escher is a nice, inexpensive volume.