“Drawing Hands” — MC Escher 1948
Last month I took my son and his young friend to see the MC Escher exhibit at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh as part of our homeschool experience. First thing I noticed: THE ENTIRE PARKING LOT WAS PACKED! Hundred of parking spaces and not a single empty space. Wait, what? I’m at an art museum and having to drive around and around just to find a space? THIS IS AWESOME!!
We finally parked and purchased our tickets. I soon learned this was the largest exhibit ever in the world on display of MC Escher’s work in one place. It was certainly the biggest traveling museum exhibit I have ever attended. We spent hours looking, but I could’ve spent days. Easily.
In my photography club I’ve been learning about the Elements of Design (line, texture, shape, form, pattern, color). With Escher, he effortlessly expands on those elements and adds things like:
- perpetual motion, still life, and sometimes a blending of the two
Perhaps what attracts so many people to his work is his unique gift of mathematically capturing concepts such as:
- the finite and the infinite
- the abstract and the obvious
- the proof of geometry
These are all awesome. But my favorite? Gravity Tricks!
Escher doesn’t create illusion, so much as bend converging realities. I keep studying how MCE defies gravity in his work. I study Drawing Hands where 3D and 2D overlap Hand or Circle Limit IV where the infinite is captured precisely by proportionately repeating patterns that grow ever smaller around the perimeter of a circle. MCE shows us in in Metamorphosis I how objects morph from collective to individual with no discernable delineation. Time seems fold in upon itself as large becomes small, then large, then small again. How do you even think like this, much less accurately draw it?
I look around. A beautiful deaf gentleman and his sweetheart are beside me. He is smiling, and tearing up and overcome with emotion. Their hands are fluttering in a beautiful synchronicity that speaks of a wisdom and secret language open in plain sight I don’t possess and am not privy to, though I wish I was. They never stop talking. In this beautiful space called silence, they are the loudest people I’ve ever seen! I mean, they just won’t shut up. They can’t. They have delved deeper into this than I even I get to go. It makes me want to cry.
My kids with me have finished up before I have. That’s okay. They are immersed in thoughts on a bench and are silently sketching their own thoughts–their own dreams and realities. Art is such a beautiful thing. I keep perusing.
Seeing photos of Escher as a young man, a young husband, as well as his self-portraits in spheres and mirrors really moved me. In this one, he kind of resembles Picasso I think. In this one, he kind of reminds me of Coldplay’s Chris Martin. No wait, I think I see some of me in there. Yeah, that’s me–if I were a man I think.
I look at his self-portrait in Hand with Reflecting Sphere which reflects both himself and the room he’s sitting in. But upon closer inspection, it reveals both reality and non-reality.
“Hand with Reflecting Sphere” — MC Escher 1935
Those hands!! I look at mine. My goodness! Those are my hands! He has the same creases on the same life line. How is that possible?
I look at the dates of his work. I try to recall the history of that time. This one is dated 1924. I envision flappers dancing the night away and families gathered around their radio to hear President Coolidge speak.
Oceans away in Rome, Italy, a young Escher meets the love of his life, Jetta Umiker. While America was mass producing Model T’s, Escher was quietly drawing the beautiful towns and landscapes of Viterbo, Abruzi, Corsica, Calabria, Amalfi, and Sicili. MCE loved Italy, but then Mussolini came to power. Escher found his fascist ideals deplorable, so he moved his family to Switzerland, and then Belgium and then ultimately settled in the Netherlands until 1941 when WWII broke out. He remained there until his death in 1970.
When he sketched, what was his work environment like? Did he hear music in his head? Did he sip some Italian vino as he drew? How does one so perfectly capture the essence of an ant or a beetle? How do you freeze in your mind the stillness of something so small as if the tiny creature had posed for a portrait? How many hours and days and weeks did he spend when he so meticulously captured the landscapes of Italy?
What must it be like to silently appreciate every detail in the vastness of a city by the sea like Atrani, Coast of Amalfi or smaller landscapes like Street in Scano to the intimate portraits of his father George. Even as his father lay dying, Escher’s portrait seems to capture every hair on his head, a visual reminder for himself and others to not forget the beauty of his father’s soul.
When he created, what did he hear? Did he tune out the world’s outer clatter and create in silence or did he immerse himself in the rhythms and melodies found in nature and find hidden symphonies that inspired him?
It’s obvious what inspired him: everything. Escher was not content to draw with flatness, but with depth and dimension. He tapped into his unique gift and learned how to draw in a way that expands and changes the way we look at things.
Escher draws us in to his work with optical tricks but quickly leads us to deeper truths. The longer you stare at his work, the more your mind continuously expands. You can’t help but be blown away when you contemplate the infinite when going around and around an endless staircase or the use of hyperbolic geometry and symmetry as you move from a large central image to an exponentially smaller one in a repeating pattern. You can feel the deeper truth at work in your own heart the longer you look.
Perhaps it’s the tug of our own inner law of entropy at work: The uneasy awareness that settles in knowing over time, we all become small, then smaller–then gone.
When math marries imagination and memory, well–it’s a beautiful thing. As a person who is often rooted too much emotion and feeling, I feel myself breathe in utter relaxation and find a sense of calm as the linear logic of math and predictable patterns make sense. Until it doesn’t again. Poof! Mind blown—again!
Like excellent music, I don’t think I could pinpoint a favorite MCE work; there are too many I love! But one that really touched my heart was Three Worlds. MCE explained his goal in this work was to incorporate and connect multiple realities.
“Three Worlds” — MC Escher — December 1955
That struck a nerve. Because this is the world where Liz resides! It’s called:
Nothing is Coincidence
Everything is Connected
As someone who enjoys creating, I am most inspired by the way Escher refused to live a life of frustration constipation. (Living life doing the things that don’t interest you or motivate you). He didn’t hold back his art, or deny time for it, he let it out!
Escher seems to understand that when we create art, we leave behind something that resonates in the soul of someone else. One’s work easily transcends the length of one’s life when it has the power to connect with others. Something created can make someone else smile, or cry, or think about people or the world differently. The silence of art brings us both revelation and understanding of both the artist and ourselves.
MC Escher was known for restoring order out of chaos, be it one’s external world, or one’s internal mind. He also was a gifted genius employing techniques of beautiful precision. He found a way to visually articulate the ways that art can be composed of both math and science. Science and logic can beautifully coexist with nature and creation. As a creator, his work to me implies an understanding that he too was created. Perhaps in that vast space that lies between love and logic, vision and creation, he too found proof of God.
Official Site of MC Escher to purchase his work can be found here: http://www.mcescher.com