METAMORPHOSE: M.C. ESCHER, 1898 – 1972
Directed by Jan Bosdriesz
Cutting edge biography of the Dutch graphic artist.
Math and art meet in the mind-blowing woodcuts, lithographs and more from Maurits Cornelis Escher. Although he had no formal training in math, his distinctive visual illusions that give the brain a workout are familiar to many as geometry textbook covers.
Freely available online, Metamorphose: M.C. Escher, 1898 – 1972 shows how a kid from Haarlem (Netherlands, capitol of the North Holland province) would lay down on the floor in the church and listen to the organ blast Bach, filling the walls, his reflection in the dome above. Good times for young Escher, and he always wanted to find a way to show it.
“I hated school,” Escher says, “but the drawing lessons were always a great relief.”
This straight-forward documentary shows the woodcuts in jaw-dropping detail, the brilliance of which is offset by the stark lights and darks of piano keys. We learn of Escher’s love for the southern Italian landscape where he lived in his youth and which he idealized throughout his life, and for the woman he married, Jetta.
Mediocre student and fortunate son in a well-to-do family, Escher was able to focus on graphically illustrating an idea using as little as possible to be as clear as possible. The film itself is nearly as evocative and minimalist as its subject, gradually revealing the shifts in Escher’s evolving life.
When expressing ideas in woodcuts didn’t initially pan out, he turned to wresting from oblivion images of the daily life he saw around him.
Initially Escher considered his most enduring work involving Tessellations—regular patterns that divide a plane with no overlapping or gaps—as “an amusing game” inspired by Moorish tiles. What makes Escher’s work so useful to mathematicians is the symmetry of the endless repetition. A balance in keeping with what the ancient Egyptians called Ma-At.
Sketched hands that come out of the paper and into life, sketching each other. Stairs bending in impossible ways. Warped perspectives with the self-rendering artist at the center, holding the distortion in the globe.
Eventually Escher’s evolving genius was to link interlocking repeating patterns with human, animal, and fanciful imagery—“figures you can never actually see at the same time because one is the background of the other”—graphically illustrating concepts equally artful and mathematical in a picture too big to see.
Stewart Kirby writes for