Printmaker Maurits Cornelis Escher (Dutch, 1898-1972) created visual puzzles that astonish with their mathematical rigor and their patent absurdity. This exhibition traces the development of the artist’s work from his early stylized depictions of landscape and architecture to his later use of repeated geometric patterns, stimulated by his visit in 1936 to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. There he discovered Moorish decorative tiles with their purely abstract designs. By adding the suggestion of human or animal forms to such logical patterns, Escher began creating imaginary images in which one form morphs into another. Exploiting the potential for visual paradox of reversals of figure and ground, manipulations of perspective, and shifts between spatial illusion and the flatness of the picture surface, he created virtual worlds.
Drawn from the permanent collection of the Portland Art Museum and from two private Oregon collections, the exhibition is comprised of some 120 objects, including material never before presented at the Museum. The exhibition features prints in the media most favored by Escher: woodcut, wood engraving, linocut, and lithography. By including drawings as well as printing blocks created in preparation for several of the prints on display, the exhibition illuminates Escher’s working process and the sweep of his graphic production.
The Virtual Worlds exhibit at the Portland Art Museum includes many of the iconic Escher prints from the late 1930s through the 1960s, such as Day and Night, Ascending and Descending, and Belvedere. It will run until September 13th, 2009.
If you would like to learn more about the artist M.C. Escher, then I highly recommend reading Doris Schattschneider’s classic M. C. Escher: Visions of Symmetry ($40). This gorgeous coffee table book is the most penetrating study of Escher’s work in existence, and the one most admired by mathematicians and scientists. The 384 page book includes many of Escher’s masterworks, as well as hundreds of lesser-known examples of his work. It also features an illustrated epilogue by the author that reveals new information about Escher’s inspiration and shows how his ideas of symmetry have influenced mathematicians, computer scientists, and contemporary artists. Visions of Symmetry is a trip into the mind of a creator who continues to captivate the world today.