Who is MC Escher? Learn more about the Dutch graphic artist


Dutch engraver MC Escher mathematics and art perfectly combined. From illustrations of hands drawing hands to landscapes that turn into birds, he has created dynamic illusionary drawings based on mathematical concepts such as paving and perspective.

During his creative career, he produced a range of stunning lithographs and prints which were very popular with the public. Despite this fame, however, he continually struggled to gain acceptance by critics in the art world, largely due to the highly scholarly nature of his work. While other famous artists were known to explore mathematical themes in their work, Escher’s art was also deeply linked to his love of patterns and graphic design, and therefore did not have the same narrative quality as the critics believed necessary.

Here, we’ll explore the life of MC Escher and take a closer look at some of the fascinating concepts he explored in his works.

Who is MC Escher?

Photograph of MC Escher working

MC Escher at work on “Sphere Surface with Fish” in his studio, late 1950s (Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simões CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972), better known as MC Escher– was a Dutch graphic designer specializing in mathematically inspired works of art. He has created many stunning woodcuts, lithographs and woodcuts that play with geometry, symmetry, perspective and tessellation.

Early life

Escher grew up in the Netherlands and received formal training in School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, with a particular focus on the graphic arts. After completing his studies, the young artist moved to Italy and stayed there for over 10 years. During this time, he traveled across the country, making sketches of the Italian landscape and translating those designs into striking black and white prints.

MC Escher Day and night

In 1935 Escher made another inspiring trip, this time to the 14th-century palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. There he became fascinated by the repeating patterns adorning the tiles and began to incorporate this same litany of shapes into his own work of art.

The art of MC Escher

Convex and concave (1955) - Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 - 1972)

During his lifetime, Escher produced 448 lithographs, woodcuts and black prints, as well as over 2,000 drawings and sketches. Although Escher did not have a formal education in mathematics, it was the foundation – and often the inspiration – of his art.

Geometry

MC Escher.  Another world 1947Geometry appeared in most of his prints through his use of multiple points of view (usually in the same drawing), shapes, and math objects.

One of his favorite math objects was the Möbius tape: a unilateral surface without borders. When Escher finished his iteration with red ants titled Möbius Band II, he said, “An endless ring-shaped belt usually has two distinct surfaces, one on the inside and one on the outside. However, on this strip, nine red ants crawl one after the other and roam the front as the back. Therefore, the tape has only one surface.

EScher-Mobius-Strip-II

paving

Tessellation Sculpture Celebrant MC Escher

A wall sculpture in Leeuwarden celebrating the artistic tilings of MC Escher (Photo: Bouwe Brouwer
CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In art, paving refers to covering a surface with flat geometric shapes without overlaps or gaps. Escher was inspired to incorporate paving into his own work after seeing it used in the Alhambra’s intricate tiling work.

At first he incorporated geometric grids into his sketches to develop patterns. Then he started making drawings with interlocking shapes – usually animals – in which each subject complemented the other perfectly, like puzzle pieces.

2D vs. 3D

Draw hands

The relation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects was another recurring theme in Escher’s work. In particular, he was fascinated with how he could change a shape from 2D to 3D by adding more guides.

He demonstrated this transformation with drawings that turn into “reality” within the same composition. This is the most famous illustrated in his work, Draw hands.

The artist’s legacy

Swans (1956) - Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 - 1972)

Ignored by the art world for most of his life, Escher did not receive a retrospective exhibition of his work until the age of 70. Yet his innovative designs have had a lasting influence on math, art, and pop culture.

After his death, major exhibitions of his work were held around the world, each time attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.

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Clifton L. Boyd

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