M. C. Escher’s ants in an infinite loop, impossible staircases and tricks of perspective are the images that come to mind with the mention of the Dutch graphic artist’s name. A museum is established in his honour in Den Haag in the former Winter Palace of Queen Mother Emma of the Netherlands. Their collection includes prints of his famous images exhibited alongside representative images from throughout his career. The top floor is given over to rooms demonstrating illusions of perspective and vision - a potential kiddie-hell-hole, though me and my big-kid friend Wolf found it fun too.
Escher’s art of impossible reality achieved popular recognition though surprisingly little formal recognition. Mathematicians and physicists remember him with affection for his interest in the infinities, small and large; the exhibition shows Escher developed this early in his career. His contemporaries were the artists of the International Art Nouveau, Weimar and Bauhaus movements but although Escher’s work clearly identifies with these trends, there’s little indication in the exhibition that he was in close communication with these movements.
The original lithographic prints on display differ only mildly from the reproductions available in poster shops in high streets and online. The woodcuts suffer more in reproduction but the images themselves are less famous. Time and light have dimmed the visual impact of the original paper and ink but the detail and the lines are still firm and clear. There are displays which show the construction of tessellated images - montages of tiles which match precisely. All leave me marvelling at the precision and obsessive detail of his work as well as his images of grand concepts of mutation by increments and of infinity.
The question which is left unanswered by the exhibition is how a non-mathematician came to spend so much time and receive so much acclaim investigating the mathematical concepts around the infinitely large and the infinitely small. There are not, unfortunately, displays of his correspondence with the mathematical luminaries of his era.
So - as with the photography of Ansel Adams, the exhibition I visited in London last month - there is the intriguing situation of an artist of the middle of the twentieth century, who became famous by popular recognition despite a lack of critical acclaim.