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M.C. Escher – a love affair between math and art

In The Hague, on a frosty winter’s day, I visited the 18th century Lange Voorhout Palace where, since November 2002, a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Dutch printmaker, draftsman, illustrator – graphic artist, Maurits Cornelis Escher resides.

I actually came across the building by accident during my wanderings. Attracted by the banners for the exhibit and needing to warm my incredibly cold toes, I ventured in. And ended up spending one of the best afternoons ever within the weathered walls of this landmark building.

Escher worked with plane geometric figures which he then tessellated (made them interlock without any overlap or space in between) by using the technique of translation, rotation or reflection. He then put his signature mark on the creation transforming the original geometric shapes into animals, insects and landscapes within a story. Thrillingly cool! His media were lithographs, woodcuts and mezzotints. He inspired and was inspired by the mathematicians Roger Penrose and Harold Coxeter. And through his art dug deep into geometry and explored infinity.

His works also feature impossible objects like the infinite staircase and his infinite circles and tessellation on spheres. But, this probably won’t jog most people’s memories, for he sits amidst that group of radically “cool” artists whose work is immediately recognizable to the masses, albeit the artist not truly known.

You have most likely seen Escher’s optical illusion prints and infinite circles populating t-shirts, posters, mugs, pencils, notebooks and numerous other commercially successful products, but never realized who he was.

During his lifetime his optical illusions were labelled not “true art” by some and “too cerebral” by others.

What is an artist to do?

I was fascinated by the exhibit as a whole, but was particularly drawn to his works: Metamorphose and Waterfall and ended up purchasing these prints. They now occupy pride of place along the staircase of our home and it is impossible to walk up or down the stairs without stopping to study these works.

Friends can be found, discussing on the stairs, giving their opinions as they try to figure things out. Art as a true conversation piece.

As was the case with many, before and after Escher, mega notoriety, arrived only after his death. The scientific and mathematical community know him well, and the artistic community has, thankfully, in large part through the Lange Voorhout Museum, revived the legacy of this interesting and alternative artist.

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