Escher in the Palace
Monday, 30 October 2006
A few Thursday’s back I decided upon a random stopover during a train journey from London to Amsterdam. A literal roll of the dice resulted in The Hague as the place of choice. A little research lead to a suprise find – Escher in the Palace! – A permanent show dedicated to the work of the Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972). The impressive collection provides a great chance to view some of the lesser known works, as well as the familiar, in the flesh. The accompanying gallery notes and film are equally essential material for those interested in Escher’s work.
I took the liberty of taking many pictures at the museum, some of which can be found in my ‘Escher in the Palace’ set.
Probably Escher’s most well known body of work is that which employs sub-divisioning of planes and surface tessellation. I was happy to discover, but not surprised, that Escher had visited the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain to study and make sketches of its elaborate decoration, and particularly the geometric artwork.
Escher was known to correspond with the Mathematicians of the time and frequently exchanged letters with Roger Penrose, famous for the influential and inspirational Penrose Tilings. More so, the Penrose Stairs will be immediately recognisable to Escher fans. Another contact was the Canadian mathematician Harold Coxeter known for his work with higher-dimensional geometries and hyperbolic tessellations. One of my favourite Escher series is the Circle Limit I, II and III all of which are based upon the hyperbolic mosaics produced by Coxeter. On a different note, its interesting to see that in 1960 an original Circle Limit III could be had for tidy sum of just 125 francs!
The synthesis of Math and Art lead Escher to such ponderances that those who have used maths or even code to make art may well identify with:
‘Finally, no matter how difficult it is, I feel all the more satisfaction from solving a problem like this (two, four, eightfold rotation points) in my own bumbling fashion. But the sad and frustrating fact remains that these days I’m starting to speak a language that is understood by very few people. It makes me feel increasingly lonely. After all, I no longer belong anywhere. The mathematicians may be friendly and interested and give me a fatherly pat on the back, but in the end I’m only a bungler to them. ‘Artistic’ people mainly become irritated.”
In 1935, Escher completed a piece called Dream (Mantis Religiousa) – it’s one I find particularly fascinating as it addresses an ongoing preoccupation with insects in dreams and/or altered states of consciousness, particularly within the occult tradition. If you delve a bit into this territory you will find that HP Lovecraft, Ramsay Campbell, Terrence Mckenna and Kenneth Grant have all written extensively on the idea of alien insect intelligence and hallucinatory Mantis gods! Why this recurring motif?
Other highlights, among many, include the immaculately drafted Tetrahedral Planetoid in which the artist imagined a small planet in the shape of a tetrahedron – a home to gardens, houses, trees, roads and people. Another is Path of Life, of which the artist said:
‘No single figure is exactly the same as any other…. It was only possible to make it after years of practice with regular plane filling…. The only reason for its creation was the challenge it presented.’
In all the ‘Escher in the Place’ is a great experience especially for the short film of artist’s life. The rooms themselves are Escher-esque, with strange chandeliers and large mirrors facing one other on opposite walls allowing expanded recursive views of the space which I’m sure MC would have approved of himself!