M. C. Escher: Master of Impossible Contrasts

January 6, 2015 Updated: January 7, 2015

Fantasy and science meet in M. C. Escher’s imaginary world, merging in what can only be called mesmerizing works of art. “M.C. Escher: The Mathemagician,” an exhibit of 54 of his works, is currently on display at the National Gallery of Canada.

As the artist said: “I don’t grow up. In me is the small child of my early days.”

It seems that order and chaos, the real and the impossible, fascinated this brilliant artist.
"Sky and Water," woodcut on laid Japan paper (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)
“Sky and Water,” woodcut on laid Japan paper (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)

This seems to be true of all great artists and writers, but what is interesting is that Escher—along with other brilliant artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, and Holbein—were all left-handed.

The NGC is fortunate to have the world’s third-largest collection of Escher’s work, after that of the M.C. Escher Foundation and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the reason is that one of the artist’s sons, George Escher, donated nearly 230 works in the 1980s and 1990s to the gallery.

"Castrovalva, Abruzzi," lithograph on beige wove paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)
“Castrovalva, Abruzzi,” lithograph on beige wove paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)

Having produced a prolific 448 lithos, woodcuts and wood engravings, and over 2,000 drawings and sketches—not to mention the designs he made for postage stamps, tapestries, and his illustrations for numerous books—Escher stated: “I could fill an entire second life with working on my prints.”

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898 to 1972) will go down in history as one of the world’s most provocative graphic artists. His work is engaging and puzzling and his engravings enthrall viewers all over the world. Possibly his most famous works involve impossible contrasts, such as “Ascending and Descending,” “Relativity,” and his “Metamorphosis” series, as well as his “High”, “Low,” “Close,” and “Far Away” works.

"Hand with Reflecting Sphere," lithograph on silver coated wove paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)
“Hand with Reflecting Sphere,” lithograph on silver coated wove paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)

It seems that order and chaos, the real and the impossible, fascinated this brilliant artist, as they do the viewers who puzzle over many of Escher’s provocative works.

On display at the National Gallery of Canada until May 3, “M.C. Escher: The Mathemagician” will also travel to the Art Gallery of Alberta. A book is available at the NGC’s bookstore. Go to shopngc.ca and look for “Letters to Canada, 1958 -1972.”

"The Drowned Cathedral," woodcut on laid Japan paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)
“The Drowned Cathedral,” woodcut on laid Japan paper. (Courtesy National Gallery of Canada)

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings and Doctor’s Review, among others. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com