I’ve been fascinated by the work of 20th Century Dutch artist M. C. Escher since I first encountered it in college. His impossible constructions and transformation tilings in particular drew my eye and brain as I tried to figure out how he was able to create them. Somewhere along the way I picked up this book but have only now, years later, gotten around to reading it.
The essays at the front include one by Escher himself, but the first one, by museum curator J. L. Locher is the most enlightening. It describes how the artist used mathematical principles (without getting deep into the math itself) to structure many of his works, and how he used ambiguous shades of gray to smoothly turn a floor into a wall or a ceiling in a work like “Relativity” or create the closed loop staircase in “Ascending and Descending.”
If the book falls short anywhere, it’s in the limited attention it gives to Escher’s work in color. Many of his tilings, where he experimented with ways to divide up a flat surface with interlocking figures, were done in watercolor, for example. The book, however, shows only eight works in color, perhaps for cost reasons.
And while the book reproduces over 250 of his prints, a quick tour through the Escher Foundation web site’s gallery reveals many more.
The thing about Escher’s art in the latter half of his career is that while it’s mind-bending in so many ways, it’s still approachable. Viewers don’t need seven degrees in art appreciation to be enthralled by the work. While revealing how he did what he did, The World of M. C. Escher only increases that enchantment. Highly recommended.