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The illusive world of M.C. Escher

Above: 'Puddle', 1952.

Although the influences on each of my collections are varied and diverse, there are a few themes and artists that I can't seem to escape from: Maurits Cornelis Escher is one of them. 

I was delighted to be invited to the opening of The Amazing World of M.C. Escher at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this month: the first major UK retrospective of Escher's original work. Escher did not belong to any particular movement and he was never fully embraced by the art world; one reason, perhaps that there is only one of his works in a permanent collection in the whole of the UK. Having studied Escher's works for years in the pages of books, it was quite amazing to see original drawingswoodcuts and lithographs at their full scale in the beautiful setting of Dulwich gallery. 

Left: detail from 'Gravity', 1952. Right: detail from 'Tower of Babel', 1928

The size and quality of the original drawings and prints allows the viewer to enter into Escher's world; to pick up every tiny detail that can be easily overlooked in reproductions and really appreciate his incredible skill as a draughtsman. There is a huge scope of Escher's work on display, from some of his earliest experiments at art college, through to architectural illusion in works such as 'Other World' and later, deceptively simple natural studies such as 'Puddle' (feature image). 

Top left: detail from 'South Italian Landscape', 1929. Top right: detail from 'White Cat', 1919. Above: detail from 'Other World', 1947.

I've always been fascinated by Escher's representations of infinity and use of mathematics to create patterns (he was hugely influenced by mathematicians such as Roger Penrose and H.S.M. Coxeter). This can be seen perhaps most clearly in his many experiments with tessellations and 'regular divisions of the plane' - many themselves expressing the concept of infinity. 

Top: Circle Limit I, 1958. Left: Plane Filling I, 1951. Right: Pencil study with calculations

Escher was also fascinated with metamorphosis; a theme he returned to again and again. I've always been intrigued by this tension between real and imaginary that he created; for example in 'Reptiles' where he plays with two-dimensions turning into three and back again, or the woodcut 'Metamorphosis II', where geometric shapes morph into hives, bees, birds and landscapes across its four metre length. 

Top: 'Reptiles', 1953. Middle left: study for 'Metamorphosis II', 1939-40. Middle right: detail from 'Belvedere', 1958. Above: 'Metamorphosis II', 1939-40.

This retrospective is a unique chance to rediscover this master of illusion and paradox, and I couldn't agree more with Ian A.C. Dejardin, Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, who says: 'His images are so magical, and so incredibly clever, that he creates impossible images that feel utterly real... The exhibition is a revelation'. 

Top right: detail from 'Day and Night', 1938. Top left: study for 'Snakes', 1969. Above: poster image 'Hand with a Reflecting Sphere', 1935. 

The Amazing World of M.C. Escher

14 October 2015 - 17 January 2016

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Gallery Road
SE21 7AD

Monday Closed (except Bank Holidays, open 10am – 5pm)
Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 5pm (Last Entry 4:30pm)