M.C. Escher - Artists Book and Text by Adam Fuchs.
Monday, January 18, 2010
M.C. Escher - Art and Mathimatics. By Adam Fuchs
Every so often - I find a writing that sums up what I'd like to say better than I can say it - and in that case - it's far better to simply post it in their own words.
In my Orientation to Art and Design course at the College of Visual Arts, I had a student do just that. Adam Fuchs wrote such a clear delivery of what it is to walk the line between the sciences and the Arts - that I thought it was definitely worth posting. So here is his article below, along with images - Including that of this own amazing book project that he did - a 3-D Puzzle that is a book as well. Amazing.
M.C. Escher - Artists Book and Text by Adam Fuchs.
I recently made an artist book on Dutch artist Maurits C. Escher (1898-1972). One of the world’s most famous graphic artists, he is considered the father of modern tessellations— the regular division of planes. At age 68, he said, “filling the plane has become a real mania to which I have become addicted and from which I sometimes find it hard to tear myself away” (Taschen 17). His genius lay in the ability to explore math in his art and his passion for balancing opposing concepts such as order and disorder, high and low, close and far.
My idea was to construct a wooden cube out of dovetailed pine panels or “pages” with Escher’s Metamorphosis III on the outside of the pages in raised relief inked in black. The inside of the pages would have biographical information on Escher and some thoughts about his work. There would be a smaller cube nesting inside the outer cube that would be constructed in the same fashion, enabling my to get twelve pages out of the book.
The reason I chose Escher for the book is mainly due to my love of math and logic puzzles. Escher’s art is very mathematically based. His strong use of geometry and the mathematics of crystalline structure is balanced and enhanced by his exploration of imaginary worlds and infinite spaces. From his impossible cubes and distorted perspectives to his clean and ordered regular division of the plane, Escher dazzles the mind and appeals both to order and chaos. His duality is perhaps his greatest strength. As I researched him in preparation for the book, I learned many things about his life and his craft.
During construction of the book, I gained a deeper appreciation to the painstaking detail created in wood by this Dutch master. After several fruitless tries, I gave up on cutting the images of Metamorphosis in relief on the cube. I settled for drawing and inking right on the pine cube. Over 20 hours later, the cube looked nice, my hand was cramped and hurting, and I was totally satisfied. My cube is much smaller than one of Escher’s actual woodcuts, and my hand is nowhere near as talented, but by doing the book in as close to his style as a time, and a students limited budget allowed is learned so much more than just reading a biography or studying one of his prints ever could have taught me. I also feel a lot closer to one of the great men of the 20th century.
Escher was born in Leeuwarden, Holland. His father, George Escher, was a civil engineer. Escher received his first instruction in drawing at secondary school from a teacher who noticed his liking for ink drawings and taught him how to make lino cuts. He went on to study architecture at Higher Technology School in Delft, but was soon forced to quit due to poor health. He did many drawings during this period and began to use wood cuts as a medium. He enrolled in architecture at an art school in Haarlem and was soon encouraged by a friend and teacher to switch to drawing and printmaking. His skills at wood cutting improved rapidly. (Taschen 17-18)
Escher’s wood cut prints are made using primarily side-grained wood, such as pear, because it works better than the more expensive end-grained woods for large prints. His first seven years in Italy were spent using solely side-grained wood (Brigham 9). When more than one block was needed for the print, notches were made on each block to indicate the points where pins were placed to hold the blocks together. By making notches on second block correspond to the notches on the first block and continuing this on subsequent blocks, each block could be fit into place accurately on a multiple block print (Ernst ).
During travels to the French Riviera, Italy, and Spain, Escher begins to experiment with mirror images, crystalline shapes, and spheres. He spends much of his time drawing landscapes, plants, and insects. After a visit to the Alhambra, he gains a fascination with the regular division of the plane and produces “Eight Heads in 1922”— his first wood cut of this kind (Taschen 18). He settles in Italy and meets his future wife, Jetta Umiker.
Growing political turmoil forces a move to Switzerland in 1935. This provokes a move from his Italy inspired dizzying landscapes to graphic works and mental imagery (Taschen 18). This is the idea behind metamorphosis. Escher experiments with tessellations throughout the 30’s and makes his renowned “Metamorphosis” in 1937. Escher moved back to Brussels and showed his tessellations to his brother Beer who is a professor in geology. Beer draws his attention to the similarity his work has with crystallography astounding Escher, who then begins his crystallographic experiments (Taschen 19). One of his most famous prints, “Day and Night” is a product of this time, followed shortly be Metamorphosis II— his largest print.
Metamorphosis II is a wood cut printed from twenty-nine blocks. Escher used musical 4:4 time in the first solely white and black section as a planning aid. The rhythm changes from squares to animal shapes and a third shade is added to the white and black, creating 3:4 time (Brigham 16). The figures become more simplified, morphing to hexagons that combine to makes honeycomb cells, which leads to the bee larva and bees flying off into space. Their black silhouettes fly on to form a black background for white fishes. The transition and morphing goes on through birds and towns and chess pieces to come full circle to where it started with the word “Metamorphosis”. Transition from flat images to spatial images was key for Escher in his prints at this time.
By the 1950’s, M. C. Escher had gained such fame that people were commissioning him for far more unusual services such as tapestry design, and a ceiling decoration for Philips of Holland. He was published in Time and Life magazines 1951, and began to lecture. Audiences of artists, mathematicians, and scientists were enchanted with his visions. He began to experiment with techniques for expressing infinity within the limits of print, as shown in such works as “Whirlpools” in 1957. (Taschen 20)
Escher had a brief love affair with the dark grey and black shades of mezzotints— a copper plate intaglio method. He found that he did not have the patience for the time consuming process and has produced less than ten mezzotints. This was the only type of intaglio practiced by Escher, who preferred to delineate his figures using tonal contrast rather than outline, as is characteristic of intaglio prints. (Brigham 9)
Escher printed his wood cuts not a press, but using an old Japanese method using a bone spoon. The ink is spread over the wood using a roller, and sheet of paper was then laid on it. Each point of contact between the wood and paper was then rubbed with the bone spoon. This allows the woods to remain serviceable for a much longer period than with a press, which needs much greater force to make a print, thus allowing for more prints. (Ernst )
Escher was incapable of drawing when forced to rely solely on his imagination. In his later prints, when building and landscapes are needed, he copied these with great accuracy from real settings. His human and animal figures were drawn from nature, while clay and paper models served for more abstract models (Ernst ) He envied sculptors, who worked with more concrete materials, but loved drawing due to its broader application and range of possibilities. One of the things that most appeals to me in his work is the painstaking attention to detail and exquisite craft that goes into each piece. No matter how difficult or tedious, the process does not inhibit his producing startling images describing his inner vision.
M.C. Escher is the first artist whose work I could recognize by name. It was revolutionary in his day and entices the eye even today. From regular plane filling tessellations to imaginary worlds, spatial illusions to impossible knots and buildings, Escher’s work is a feast for the aesthetic and the scientist in all of us. To see the work is to love it, but to realize that each detail is painstakingly carved out of wood in multiple levels on different blocks to achieve the varying shades is to be awed by the attention and love given by a master to his craft.
Brigham, John E. Graphic Work of M.C. Escher. J.J. Tijil N.V. Zwolte, Holland. 1960. Old
Book Company. London. 1961. Print. 76 pgs.
Ernst, Bruno. The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher. Barnes and Noble Books. Singapore. 1994
Metamorphosis III. Global Gallery. Global Arts Group Ltd. !994-2009.
< http://www.globalgallery.com/prod_images/600/esc-e33.jpg> Web Image.
Sky and Water. Global Gallery. Global Arts Group Ltd. 1994-2009.
Relativity. Global Gallery. Global Arts Group Ltd. 1994-2009.
Taschen. M.C. Escher. Ed. Wedermann, Julius. Cologne, Germany. 2006. Print. 191 pgs.