I’ve admired the work of artist M. C. Escher for a long time; his pictures are unique, and have influenced popular culture to a significant degree. In particular, a major scene from the film Labyrinth was inspired by an Escher work, and Mick Jagger even tried to commission a picture from the artist for a Rolling Stones album cover, though Escher, having never heard of Jagger or the band, turned him down.
It’s rare to have several Escher works collected together for an exhibition in the UK, so I was very excited to hear about The Amazing World of M. C. Escher, which runs at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London until 17 January. The exhibition has been organised by the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, and showcases nearly 100 works from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in the Netherlands.
I had heard that the exhibition was rather busy, so I decided to book online in advance and choose an early time slot. I arrived in time for my 10.15 slot which was ideal – the exhibition was very quiet, with no queues as yet! Tickets cost £14 for adults and £7.50 for concessions/Art Fund members; children and Dulwich Picture Gallery Friends get free entry.
The exhibition follows a chronological timeline, beginning with Escher’s early landscape prints and tracing his development as an artist as he grew interested in perspective and developed knowledge of the mathematical principles that would inform his later work. The first major UK show of his work, it includes woodcuts, lithographs, drawings, watercolours and mezzotints, as well as exclusive archive material such as initial concept drawings and correspondence with mathematicians such as Roger Penrose, who assisted him in the execution of some of his later designs.
Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972) started out by training as an architect. In 1918, he was studying at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, Holland, when a teacher noticed his talent as a draughtsman and printmaker. He was advised to move into the Graphic Art department, and his career as a printmaker dates from this moment.
Escher spent several years moving around Europe, and this is reflected in his earlier prints which include Italian townscapes, Netherlands landscapes, and influences including the Islamic tiles he saw on a visit to Moorish Spain. His early work consists of distinctive woodcuts, lithographs and drawings which are more straightforward in design, before he began playing with perspective. Though his work bears some resemblance to Surrealism, he had no contact with the Surrealist group.
I loved all the pictures, but one of my favourites was the still life that transformed seamlessly into a street scene. I also loved the picture showing lizards crawling out of a two-dimensional tessellation to become three-dimensional creatures. In fact, all the tessellated pictures were fascinating and extremely clever. Later in the exhibition, I loved the “impossible pictures” showing monks climbing neverending stairs and water flowing in impossible ways.
Escher’s career spanned two world wars and his work increased in popularity as the century wore on. His work was so different from that of any other artist and by the time of his death he was truly acclaimed. Today, his work is still appreciated and admired. I’m so glad I was able to see this exhibition and I left with an even greater appreciation of Escher’s work.
As a nice touch, the exhibition ended with the opportunity to take a selfie in an Escher-like pose!