Prints 1-30

[1] PLANE-FILLING MOTIF WITH HUMAN FIGURES
Bool 65
Woodcut
[1920 or 1921], no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Visions of Symmetry, page 7.

Although not strictly a tessellation-based print, this is included nonetheless as it is of motifs which are designed to fill the plane, of which this is the first of an unstated ‘series of two’, with the same motifs used but in different formats. Essentially, two broadly human-like motifs are ‘adapted’ to the confines of a rhombus, which was then repeated as a tiling pattern. However, the motifs are somewhat inelegant, and so presumably on account of their relative poor quality Escher did not proceed any further with examples of this type, although in the same year he briefly returned to a polygon of a non-repeating nature (essentially triangular) filling with a human figure as a woodcut (cat. 85). Interestingly, the same type of hand can be seen on both examples.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[2] PLANE-FILLING MOTIF WITH HUMAN FIGURES
Bool 66
Lithograph
[1920 or 1921], no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Visions of Symmetry, page 7.

Essentially, as this consists of the same motifs as with Bool 65, albeit in a different format, the same comments thus apply to this.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[3] EIGHT HEADS
Bool 90
Woodcut
[January, February or March] 1922

Whilst still a student at Harlem, he composed, completely of his own volition, what is indisputably his first ‘proper’ tessellation-based print, of Eight Heads, essentially repeating a tessellation in graphic form. All but one of the heads is shown in profile, four female, four male, albeit the black male figures are somewhat contrived. As is self evident, these are of a most poor standard in terms of their inherent quality, with contour lines not being readily discernable, and furthermore half of the motifs are upside down in relation to each other, which Escher did not like (and of which with such examples he spoke out about later). Interestingly, this is not of the style with which he later proceeded, as they represent only a partial element of the whole figure. However, although possessing notable shortcomings, the principle of a tessellation is indeed firmly established. Again, presumably due to the inherent poor quality, Escher did not continue any further with such examples of this type, this essentially being put aside, of which he then returned to his more orthodox studies of a figurative nature.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[4] METAMORPHOSIS I
Bool 298
Woodcut, printed on two sheets
May 1937, drawing 4, October 1936
Discussed in: Life and Work, pages 13-16 and Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber), pages 170-172. Magic (letter to Hein ‘s Gravesande, 1940).

This woodcut, obviously marks a watershed in his works, as essentially he begins to move away from preceding Italian landscapes to ‘mental imagery’ of a mathematical nature, although upon the initial effort the change was gradual, as he still continued with the former, essentially simultaneously with his tessellation-based prints for a considerable period.
     As evidenced by the title, this print involves a metamorphosis, of essentially three elements, of a typical Italian coastal scene (of Atrani on the coast of Amalfi, having been previously drawn in 1931) to rhombuses (these being the underlying tessellating unit of the following motif), which acts as a prelude to a Chinese boy. Escher was dissatisfied with this in an aesthetic sense, as there is no connection or link per se between an Italian coastal town and a Chinese boy. Although a better solution to this would have been to make the coastal scene more typically of a Chinese nature, albeit even here, despite a better connection, this still lacks a unifying theme – why should a series of buildings metamorphosise into a boy? As such, there is no good reason for such a composition, and so despite an excellent execution the concept thus remains disjointed, lacking in aesthetic quality as when compared to subsequent prints, where this matter is addressed, such as Sky and Water I. However, as this was the first such effort of its type, to ask for aesthetic perfection in such matters, upon having established a new style, is obviously unrealistic, and so I consider that Escher was unduly harsh on himself upon casting aspersions on this initial effort.
    Another shortcoming to this print is that despite the underlying tessellation unit of rhombuses along with the figure itself possessing mirror symmetry, the elements of the metamorphosis do not reflect this aspect. Grey and black proto boys are asymmetric, in contrast to the white proto boy being symmetric, resulting in a somewhat jarring or disjointed metamorphosis in a symmetrical sense. Without doubt, preserving symmetry throughout the metamorphosis would be desirable in an aesthetic sense. However, Escher did not manage or perhaps even attempted to do so here, again presumably because of this being the first such example of its kind such matters would not have necessarily have occurred to him. Upon examining this in detail as part of the process of figuring out how he did these types of works, I found that such an ‘all-pervading’ symmetrical metamorphosis from rhombus to figure is indeed possible, and so obviously such a feature would thus be an improvement on the original composition. Indeed, I am somewhat surprised that Escher did not subsequently notice this, and follow with a correction/improved version, or at least with an acknowledgement that a symmetrical metamorphosis was indeed possible.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[5] DEVELOPMENT I
Bool 300
Woodcut
November 1937, drawing 15, November 1937
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 14; Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber, R.L. Pierantoni), pages 168 and 344; Escher on Escher, page 34 and Magic, page 67.

As such, this woodcut dispenses with the previous landscape theme and concentrates purely on the geometrical transformation, as Escher terms it, of a development. As such, this is self-explanatory, as an outline border of squares develops in a steady progression towards the centre; the online increasing in angularity from ‘outer to inner’ until at the centre is a fully formed lizard motif. To emphasise this aspect, the initial grey ‘beginning’ gains increasingly in contrast, in effect echoing the development of the lizards outlines, until at the final stage a stark black and white is apparent.
    Again, as with Metamorphosis I, Escher was somewhat displeased with this (of which he comments upon in Graphic Work), as in effect the fully developed lizards in the centre are essentially ‘confined,’ having no room for further manoeuvre. However, if so desired, it is a simple matter to simply reverse the process, with the development from ‘inner to outer,’ from which the lizards could then be ‘released’ from their underlying tessellating structure, and then this would then open up the possibility of a broader scope, for example, of a similar nature to his 1944 print Reptiles. Again, despite Escher having ‘reservations’ about this, I consider that he is being too harsh on himself. As such, this is noticeably ‘better’ in its aesthetics, as it is more consistent, with no ‘extraneous’, non-connected aspects as exemplified with the preceding example.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[6] DAY AND NIGHT
Bool 303
Woodcut in black and grey, printed from two blocks
February 1938, drawing 18, February 1938
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 13; Magic Mirror, pages 5-6 and 77; Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber), page 174; Escher on Escher, page 35, Legacy (Vladimir A. Kopstik), pages 378-392 and The Work, pages 14-15 and 25.

As such, this is by common consent both the most well known and arguably one of the best in an aesthetic sense of all his prints, of which it has far outsold his other works. Therefore, I now propose to examine the reasons as to its widespread appeal. Perhaps of note is that it is of a concept that everyone can appreciate, with day and night being so obvious as to need no further explanation, this being in contrast to his latter prints of a more mathematical nature that may not necessarily appeal to those not so inclined. Furthermore, there is the above detailed economy of effort personified here, with no extraneous motifs to distract or detract from the composition. As such, this is due to the care Escher took in selecting the appropriate tessellation for the concept – contrast this with another, for example with Sky and Water II (although an exact analogy is not directly comparable), whereby there is an ‘overabundance’ of motifs.
    As such, Escher apparently had a concept of ‘day and night’ in mind, albeit as previously mentioned, this is subordinate to the tessellation source. As such, the background to this print has as its ultimate source an observation made by Escher, as his son George recalled in Visions of Symmetry, page 238. This thus arose as a visit by Escher senior in Switzerland just after the war, where he happened to notice a flag bearing a ‘non-tessellating counterchange’ (of five pointed stars), of which a ‘suggestion’ of counterchange (and by analogy day and night) is thus evident in idea if not in intent. From this, the background material of the above to Day and Night thus becomes ‘obvious’ in retrospect, of which this is exemplary in how from such a simple observation such originality of thought can ensue.
    The landscape scenery is borrowed from an earlier print, of October 1934, whereby he did a front cover for Timotheus, this consisting of a landscape scene (as seen from an aeroplane), which thus acts as an normal, every day, true-to-life backdrop to the more involved matters of a tessellating nature. Presumably, Escher had this print in mind when searching or selecting an appropriate tessellation to illustrate this concept, of which he subsequently frequently used elements from preceding prints.
    Incidentally, this is, I believe, the first example of his work I saw, from the Reader's Digest article, of which I detail more exactly the background to this in Essay 1, The Background to Tessellation.

Last updated 14 November 2005 (corrected typo 28 November 2006)

 

[7] CYCLE
Bool 305
Lithograph
May 1938, drawing 21, May 1938
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 16; Magic Mirror, page 39 and Escher on Escher, page 44.

This lithographs concept of a cycle is somewhat obscure, as it possesses none of the more ‘aesthetic charms’ of, say, Day and Night or Sky and Water I, both of which are more readily interpretable. Presumably, Escher, as according to the title, has in mind the concept of a cycle here, albeit only with a requisite amount of goodwill is this evident, even to the trained eye in tessellation matters. This apparently takes the form of a male figure emerging from a Italian building typical of Escher’s ‘architecture’ period, running down a flight of stairs, of which at the bottom he is ‘consumed’ by the outline of the tessellation, of which this is then ‘undeveloped’ back to the underlying polygon, namely a rhombus, thereby forming a ‘cycle.’ However, in an aesthetic sense there is no clear reason or purpose to such an act and therefore, as with Metamorphosis I the obvious question to pose is to whether there is some unifying theme behind such a composition. Certainly, as with Metamorphosis I, this is ‘clever’, but this misses the point - as such, I can see no such theme per se, and therefore this print, although executed in his usual exemplary fashion, lacks the above-mentioned merits of the given prints. A subsequent print, Reptiles of 1943, personifies a better presentation of the same idea.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[8] SKY AND WATER I
Bool 306
Woodcut
June 1938, drawing 22, June 1938
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 13; Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber), pages 166 and 175: Escher on Escher, page 36 and Science and Fiction, pages 32-35.

Sky and Water I is one of the most popular prints of Escher's, and indeed in my opinion fully justifies such praise and prominence. Now, various factors combine to place this amongst his finest works, of which I now discuss. As the title suggests, the composition is built upon a abstract idea of sky and water, of which an obvious suggestion is of birds and fish to represent this connected concept is self-evident.
     As such, this print has echoes of a similar idea of representing sky and water, shown previously in a ‘side-by-side’ manner that can be seen in two of his earlier non-tessellation examples, namely The Fifth Day of the Creation, of 1926, and Buoy, between March-June 1931. Therefore, presumably with this concept in the back of his mind, Escher then went about illustrating this with an appropriate tessellation. As such, there is a delightful economy of effort about this print, with none of the unnecessary ‘excesses’ of the later Sky and Water II, as detailed below, in which there is an ‘overabundance’ of orientations the motifs that essentially detract from the composition.
     Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given its superb aesthetic properties, the print occurred very early of his tessellation studies, occurring after only two years experience, and is therefore not, as may reasonably have been thought, the product of vast years of experience.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[9] SKY AND WATER II
Bool 308
Woodcut
December 1938, drawing 24, November 1938
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 13.

Presumably pleased with his first effort, Escher then attempted this subsequent follow up, albeit this was undertaken not immediately afterwards but six months later, and although such a print of the same theme is perfectly valid, the two Sky and Water prints differ noticeably in their aesthetics. As such, the earlier print was based upon bird and fish motifs all of the same orientation, facing to the right. Arguably, this can be said to be of a weakness, as the chosen orientation is arbitrarily incomplete, as a left orientation is perfectly valid as well, and so the idea of combining these probably occurred to Escher, from which he then possibly set about finding a tessellation to use this.
     As evidenced by the title, this is of an identical concept to Sky and Water I in every way, with the same degree of development of motifs from a centralised tessellating strip, albeit here, this is noticeably inferior in its aesthetics. Quite simply, there is an ‘overabundance’ of motifs, with birds and fish shown in two distinct orientations, of ‘left and right.’ Therefore, as is self evident, there is no ‘economy of effort’ here as with Sky and Water I, with the ‘extraneous’ birds and fish essentially being distracting. Further shortcomings can be seen, as the birds and fish are somewhat disjointed, as in their most highly developed state they are at their own respective different levels, and also the composition is contained in an non-regular twelve sided ‘polygon’, somewhat unappealingly.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[10] DEVELOPMENT II
Bool 310
Woodcut in brown, grey-green and black, printed from three blocks
February 1939, drawing 25, January 1939
Discussed in: Magic Mirror, page 103 and Escher on Escher, page 39.

As such, this echoes Development I in its general premise, albeit having two major differences. Firstly, the development occurs from ‘inner to outer’ this being in contrast to the earlier ‘outer to inner.’ Secondly, and more of significance, and noticeably different, this is based upon a self similar tiling of hexagons, these increasing in their representative outline of lizards towards the ‘outer.’ Therefore, as they consist of inherently different backgrounds despite a shared name, it would be invidious to say, in this particular example, which, if any, of these is better in an aesthetic sense than the other, this being in contrast to the Sky and Water I and II, whereby such matters are more directly comparable.
     Such comparisons with Development I aside, this is a very pleasing print, as the principle of a development is obvious even with a cursory glance. Somewhat curiously, despite being based upon a self-similar hexagonal grid, the composition is shown as a square format, and so one could argue that such an unrelated polygon would not be the best way of showing the inherently hexagonal development. However, despite such disparate symmetries, Escher has achieved a logical, balanced composition, with the most highly developed lizards at the extremities of this square, and furthermore the entire same colour. Incidentally, this was Escher's second version of this idea, as an earlier example (discussed below), this time possessing 5-fold symmetry, of which he evidently was not satisfied with exists only in block form, printed posthumously. Quite why he never used the more obvious and indeed easier to compose 6-fold symmetry seems somewhat strange.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[11] DEVELOPMENT II (first version)
Bool 310A
Woodcut, black block for multicolour woodcut
1939

Almost certainly, this first version of Development II Escher regarded as a failure, possibly in two distinct ways: (i) the symmetry of the composition (5-fold) is incompatible with the symmetry of the motif (6-fold) and (ii) the motifs are, in certain areas, not shaded in a contrasting manner. Possibly, the latter is not a fault per se, as the proposed print may have required more blocks to enable contrasting colours. Consequently, the black areas arose because of an incomplete work. Whatever, as this block was not printed, the only conclusion is that probably due to (i) he thus regarded this as a failure.

Last updated 20 December 2005 (added to the stated category, having been omitted previously)

 

[12] METAMORPHOSIS II
Bool 320
Woodcut in black, green and brown, printed from twenty blocks on three combined sheets
November 1939-March 1940, drawings 15, November 1937; 25, January 1939; 27, March 1939; 28, November 1938 and 29, December 1939
Discussed in: Escher on Escher, pages 48-53.
Preparatory drawing: Magic, frontispieces and Legacy (Douglas R. Hofstadter), pages 85-86.

Escher here reverts to the metamorphosis theme of his very first print, in which he essentially builds upon that idea with a considerably longer and indeed more complex example in terms of its metamorphosis. This involved the use of the above five drawings, this in contrast to the essentially solitary example used for Metamorphosis I. With the passing of the intervening years, Escher had thus built up a ‘storehouse’ of periodic drawings, of twenty-nine in total, and so consequently had more potential variety for this subsequent ‘follow-up’. However, not all of these are strictly ‘fully useable’, as this itinerary includes some ten examples (notably those possessing 180° rotational symmetry, No.1-2, 5-11 and 16) that are essentially ‘unsuitable’ for such compositional purposes (of which I have discussed the reasons why elsewhere, in Essay 4, Aesthetic and Non-Aesthetic Tessellations). Presumably, with relatively many more tessellations now at his disposal (albeit in truth, still a relatively small sample), he set himself the challenge of linking some of these as a metamorphosis style print, thereby surpassing the embryonic Metamorphosis I in scope. Of interest is to how many of the tessellations he thus ordinarily used for this or whether any were especially designed for this specific purpose. Schattschneider in Visions of Symmetry, pages 291-292, states that drawing 28, of June 1938 was created specially for this purpose. However, as the Metamorphosis II print is dated November 1939-March 1940, such a provenance seems unlikely. Of course, a period of research and development must be allowed for, but even so, the time span between the two obviously conflicts. Indeed, of the other four tessellating elements, three were thus created subsequently to this one without being attributed to the Metamorphosis II. More likely, but not necessarily, drawing 29 was especially designed, as its date, December 1939, is contemporary with the print. However, as Schattschneider has seen Escher's drawings at first hand (whilst I have not), the above must remain supposition.
     Such matters aside, the resulting metamorphosis is pleasing considering the limited means (of available tessellations) to hand. Indeed, Escher shows his mastery and command of various tessellation techniques, as he in effect composes a ‘masterpiece’ by building upon experience gained. From the beginning, this involves developing the ground from a ‘neutral grey’ to sharply defined black and white squares at the start of the print; with the word metamorphose heralding what is to occur. This is then followed by linking together essentially disparate tessellations together, all along with an association of related ideas, such as with hexagons being naturally suggestive of bees, with these emerging from their cells. From this a succession of metamorphoses occur of birds and fishes until such matters are brought to an end with the deformation of birds back to their underlying source, of rhombuses. These rhombuses are strongly suggestive of Italian towns, of which Escher then shows this by the coastal town of Amalfi being incorporated. This is then linked by association of ideas with a chessboard and pieces, possibly included due to his chess-playing period in Château-d’Oex. Interestingly, Escher is making a point here, albeit quite what he is implying is not certain. As such, a game is in process, of which the ending is only moments away. Indeed, White is in check by the Black Queen, of which the taking of the piece, by the White Rook, is forced. Black’s next move is then to reply with Knight to King’s Bishop 7, resulting in a checkmate. Such a precise, pivotal moment in the game can hardly have been depicted without some deeper meaning behind it. Possibly, and most likely, as the position echoes the print in terms of near completion, Escher included this as a clear signal of the impending conclusion. However, another interpretation is possible. As Escher himself was a keen player (being a member of the local club), it is quite possible that this is an actual end position of one of his games. Chess enthusiasts will recognise that it involves some pleasing subtleties, namely involving a sacrifice (although to be pedantic as this is the correct play, leading to a forced mate, and so cannot thus be considered as a sacrifice in the true meaning of the sense). Such matters can be said to be aesthetic in chess circles, and so he therefore decided to portray his abilities (or appreciation) of the game per se.
    As such, a tour de force of his skills, of which for such an early stage of his tessellation-based work is deserving of much praise. Furthermore, a true appreciation of this print is really only attainable by seeing it full size and not reproduced small scale in arbitrary blocks in the books of his work, albeit here of course the book format dictates a more condensed viewing. However, although of possessing much merit, this print is not without criticism in an aesthetic sense, as the bird and fish motifs metamorphosise in different directions. Such an effect is somewhat jarring to the eye, and better would have been for the motifs to all face the same direction, thereby aiding the scanning process of the eye, albeit to expect perfection in this matter is practically unattainable, as such numbers of the required drawings was not a practical proposition at this early date. Indeed, even with a lifetime of tessellation behind him, the number of such examples is a mere handful. Furthermore, the joining of the chessboard with the pieces on to the chessboard of metamorphose is somewhat abrupt – a more gradual effect would have been better.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[13] FISH
Bool 323
Woodcut in three tones of grey-green, printed from three blocks
October 1941, drawing 41, July 1941

This woodcut is of a somewhat obscure nature, as quite what idea or concept Escher is portraying here is not at all clear. Although various ‘weaves’ of the different fishes occurs in circuits, this seems to be of an arbitrary detail – clever, certainly, but somewhat purposeless. Furthermore, the fish cannot be said to be of the highest quality per se, and as such, all this contributes to the lack of ‘economy of effort’ as displayed by his better-known prints. Such lack of clarity in these aspects is disappointing, as this was a major work of Escher's, due to the sheer number of motifs involved, all of which must have entailed much time and effort involved for such a relatively disappointing print in terms of an unambiguous entity.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[14] VERBUM
Bool 326
Lithograph, second state
July 1942, drawings 47-52, July 1942
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 14; Escher on Escher, page 34; Magic, page 80 (letter to Hein ‘s Gravesande, March 1940) and 82; The Work, page 14 and Science and Fiction, page 34.

Verbum must be considered as amongst the finest of his prints, and indeed, a case can be made for assessing it of the best of all, certainly at least in terms of its virtuosity, of which it has no rival. Quite simply, the concept and composition is of the highest degree of difficulty imaginable. Escher here takes the theme of three elements, namely air, earth and water, and then by using appropriate representing motifs for each of these duly illustrates the idea in a unifying composition of a hexagonal format. In this particular case, the idea for such a concept came not from his usual process of composing a arbitrary tessellation and then seeing if a concept was possible, but instead he proactively created tessellations for the express purpose of the composition. As mentioned elsewhere (Essay 3, Motif Choice), this ‘forced’ style of creation is not necessarily conducive to tessellations of inherent quality, but here Escher's examples are well up to his normal high standards. Indeed, they are further regarded as meritoriously as they not only were they composed for a specific purpose in a abstract sense, as further restrictions were imposed by the constraints of the composition i.e. specific groupings of the motifs were in order. Therefore, the sheer quality of the motifs is a cause for praise, albeit inevitably compromises do indeed occur, as the frogs are somewhat ill proportioned.
     As regards the print itself, it would be most illuminating to have read Escher's impressions of this, as the complexities are quite considerable. Regrettably, for such a major work, he did not comment upon this in any detail, sufficing himself with general comments. Indeed, oddly, there is no discussion of substance elsewhere (perhaps because of its complexity). Locher (above) gives a somewhat disjointed illustrated analysis, highlighting three 'symmetry patterns', all of which are unsatisfactory, as they neglect the 6-fold rotation of the hexagonal format.
    Ideally, an analysis of this print would indeed involve illustration, but as stated in the introduction, this is inappropriate in this instance. Instead, in further updates I will discuss and illustrate this in more detail. Now, the composition is self evidently based upon a hexagonal framework, from which emanating radially from the centre a series of equilateral triangles simultaneously gain in contour and contrast to become fully developed motifs representing the above three elements at their extremities (more precisely, the middle of the hexagon's sides). When the motifs become fully developed as in the middle of the main block of motifs, the background can be seen to reflect their natural environment. Arguably, Escher here somewhat overdoes this, as so many 'background' motifs distract from the composition. Better would be to have a more 'restful', less busied area where the eye of the viewer can relax. However, such matters pale into insignificance as regards the complexity of the print per se. As such, the time involved in the planning of all this must have been considerable, of necessity involving numerous studies that belie the difficulties of the concept.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[15] REPTILES
Bool 327
Lithograph
March 1943, drawing 25, January 1939
Discussed in: Graphic Work, pages 15-16; Magic Mirror, page 28; Life and Work, page 143, Escher on Escher, page 47; Legacy (Victor Acevedo), page 114 and Science and Fiction, page 30.

Reptiles is a print that is generally placed amongst his finest works, and despite a non-descriptive title for the happenings of the composition, the concept behind this of a unambiguous cycle of the reptiles is self evident.
     As such, the reptiles emerge from their original plane tiling, and in this particular example, perhaps better than any other, more clearly demonstrates Escher’s urging in a literal sense, in Regular Division, to ‘come out of there and do something…’ as the transition from a ‘tessellation-confined’ reptile to its leaving of the drawing to ‘achieve’ is clearly seen. As such, different people have various interpretations of this, with some seeing values of reincarnation. My own interpretation is that of an analogy of a mountain climber, as upon leaving, or alternatively escaping from the confines of the drawing, the reptile than ascends a series of arbitrary objects, these increasing in their height, until at the pinnacle of this assembly the creature then gives a snort of triumph (a ‘planting of the flag’). From this elevated position, there is thus no higher place to go, and, from which upon the descent it then returns back to ‘base camp’, to the drawing.
    Interestingly, Escher has rounded of the corners of the print, of which for his square and rectangular shaped examples occurs only in three other instances, and so this thus suggests that by so doing he is trying to emphasise the inherently circularity of the composition.
    As such, a clear, logical concept of an (unstated) cycle is admirably shown, of which even by a cursory inspection is the above clear without having to delve too deeply into the intricacies of the print.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[16] ENCOUNTER
Bool 331
Lithograph
May 1944, drawing 63, February 1944
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 16; Magic Mirror, page 29; Escher on Escher, page 46 and Structural, page 47 and Magic (lecture Rosa Spierhuis,1971), page170.
Preparatory drawings in: World, pages 157-160.

Escher here uses a drawing that has as its components two distinct human-like figures, coloured black and white, albeit the black figure is grossly distorted, and is essentially a ‘fantasy figure’, somewhat devil-like. Indeed, the possibility of such a motif thus provides the potential for a perfect composition, as the motifs have a natural affinity or association, of which such possibilities arise most infrequently, due to the inherent difficulties of composing tessellations that have essentially as a by-product an obvious connection. Therefore, it is perhaps surprising that Escher did not use such ‘good/evil’ idea, at least directly, as instead he chose for his a ‘pessimist and optimist’ of which he contrives an encounter (and actual physical meeting) for the two figures at the denouement, essentially in a spirit of mutual cordiality. As such, this arguably somewhat goes against the figures ‘character types’, as it could be said that the figures essentially ‘concur’ despite their initial disparate natures.
     In contrast to this ‘happy’ story, in a compositional sense it would have been much better to have set the scene as in Hell, with the figures as ‘man and the devil’, from which an obvious moral tale could be made of the failings of man. Therefore, rather than the ‘friendly greeting’ of Escher's composition, a somewhat less than savoury embrace by the devil could have been so arranged. Indeed, the compositions background, of a sort of bottomless pit, gives additional ideas, such as the sinner shortly to be cast aside to his inevitable fate.
    Such matters of my own possibilities aside here, aesthetically it remains a very satisfactory composition. In contrast to most of his prints, preliminary drawings of this of which a considerable amount of planning went into arranging the motifs into a satisfying whole, studies of which can be seen in. However, although as an idea and in its execution it is certainly pleasing, nonetheless it lacks the inherent simplicity of other related two motif compositions, such as with Sky and Water I.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[17] MAGIC MIRROR
Bool 338
Lithograph
January 1946, drawing 66, October 1945
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 16; Magic Mirror, pages 5-6 and 77; Life and Work, page 136 Escher on Escher, page 45, and Legacy (István Orosz), pages 221-222.

The main idea of this lithograph is that of a ‘magic mirror’ of Escher's devising, with a secondary aspect of a cycle being evident. This is yet another of his ‘clever’ compositions, of necessity requiring an intense study to surmise exactly what is occurring here. Indeed, even with the above intense look, much of this still remains obscure. However, the primary premise is that of a ‘magic mirror’, whereby ‘winged dog-like’ creatures gradually emerge and develop from the mirror, whereupon being fully formed they turn the corner and eventually return to their tessellating drawing. A pleasing, subtle feature to this is that this scenario is literally reflected in the opposite half, whereby the procession of the creatures is repeated despite the mirror forming an apparent obstruction. However, although this is presumably the raison d’être of the print, this is not to say it does not have any shortfalls. Most notably, despite the creatures possessing wings, this feature is redundant in the print – ideally, flight would have played some part here. In addition, the creatures do not really do anything per se, although it could indeed be argued here that this would be unnecessary in the context of the print, this aspect being subordinate. However, as they are of a somewhat fierce appearance, along with a natural confrontational manner due to their symmetry involving a ‘meeting’, some sort of a conflict could have been so composed, thereby unifying the composition as a whole.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[18] HORSEMAN
Bool 342
Woodcut in red, black and grey, printed from three blocks
July 1946, drawing 67, June 1946
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 12; Magic Mirror, pages 100-101; Life and Work, page 143 and Science and Fiction, page 34.
Concept drawing: Visions of Symmetry, page 242.

Apparently, this woodcut is based upon a Moebius band, although as such Escher portrays this in a somewhat unclear manner, as the band is not shown as it normally appears. Indeed, the complexities of the portrayal in this instance are somewhat obscure, and therefore I thus refer the reader to Magic Mirror, whereby along with a discussion of the Moebius band per se, Ernst also undertakes an analysis of the intricacies involved of this print.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[19] SUN AND MOON
Bool 357
Woodcut in blue, red, yellow and black, printed from four blocks
April 1948, drawing 71, April 1948
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 13; Magic Mirror, page 77 and Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber), pages 168-169.

This woodcut is primarily concerned with the aspect of figure and ground per se, of which I have discussed in more detail in processes. Escher here thus uses a theme of light and darkness (sun and moon), of which by concentrating on one of the two themes as foreground, the other instantly becomes background. In contrast to most of his tessellating prints, this is based upon a considerably larger number of inherently distinct motifs, namely twelve birds, and so probably this is a rare instance where the idea came first with the tessellation being especially designed for this specific purpose.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[20] NEW YEAR'S GREETING-CARD 1949, L. AND K. ASSELBERGS [OF BOAT AND FISH]
Bool 360
Woodcut
November 1948, drawing 72, December 1948
Discussed in: Legacy (Douglas R. Hofstadter), page 35.

Before I begin the analysis proper, there is a slight discrepancy in the chronology for these motifs, as the print precedes the source. Although it is based on drawing 72 of December 1948, the print is dated earlier than the drawing, namely November 1948. Presumably, Escher had a working drawing that he used for the print that at his convenience he then subsequently composed a definitive example (the numbered drawing).
     Such matters aside, this woodcut is interesting in two distinct ways, as it provides a series of firsts in Escher's works. Firstly, it is the first commissioned work (for a new year’s greeting card of L. and K. Asselbergs) that has as its source elements from his tessellations. Secondly, this is the first of a series of what I term as ‘quick’ counterchanges (the subject of a forthcoming essay), in contrast to relatively ‘slower’ examples that precede this work. Presumably, he chose this particular type for reasons of expedience due to the commission nature of the work.
    Such background matters aside, a pleasing counterchange takes place, based upon a ‘above and below’ theme, albeit aesthetically it does indeed possess shortcomings. Primarily, this refers to the scale of the respective motifs, which although admirably represent the above concepts, are incompatible – is the boat of a normal size, with a gigantic fish, or is it the other way around? This could be argued as of a somewhat over-zealous pedantic point; but it is only by paying attention to such matters will excellence be thus achieved. As previously mentioned, such matters of aesthetics must be borne in mind when making an assessment. Self evidentially, the example here is thus lacking, albeit it remains of an acceptable standard. Contrast this with the ideal, as with Sky and Water I, with both motifs shown to scale.
    Hofstadter in Legacy briefly discusses the print, noting its perfect 'balance'.

Last updated 14 November 2005 (minor reworking and Hofstadter reference20 December 2005)

 

[21] PLANE FILLING MOTIF WITH BIRDS
Bool 361A
Wood engraving
April 1949, drawing 47, April 1949

This vignette was created for the express purpose of an exhibition card for Escher's work for the Van Lier Art gallery of Blaricum, 14 May-11 June 1949. As such, there is nothing of any significance or indeed innovative to this, as he merely repeats the same motifs from a contemporary drawing.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[22] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE WITH BIRDS
Bool 361
Wood engraving
April 1949, drawing 47, April 1949

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[23] HORSES AND BIRDS
Bool 363
Wood engraving
October 1949, drawing 76a, September 1949
Discussed in: Legacy (Douglas R. Hofstadter), pages 35-36.

This is the second of the series of smaller scale works that Escher did for the purposes of illustrating exhibition cards of forthcoming displays of his works, here for the Boymens museum of Rotterdam, along with reusing this for subsequent galleries.
     As such, the choice of format is dictated by the above purpose, being of a counterchange with a 'quick' cycle of a small scale suitable for a card. In addition, Escher was by now completely familiar with the counterchange process and presumably thus sought a appropriate motif to use for a relatively unimportant matter per se. As such, this shows a counterchange of a very quick cycle, of only four stages. Indeed, this is of the quickest type that is practical, as any faster the counterchange would occur so quickly that such an feature would not be recognisable as such. A theme of air and land is evident, with a bird and horse representing the two ideals respectively, and although 'appropriate' lacks the more obvious opposites of, say, sky and water. A drawback to the composition lies in the scale of the respective motifs in terms of their aesthetics, as the motifs can be seen to be out of scale to each other – is this a normal sized bird with a miniature horse or is the other way around? As previously mentioned, such matters of aesthetics must be borne in mind when making an assessment. Self evidentially, the example here is thus lacking, albeit it remains of an acceptable standard. Contrast this with the ideal, as with Sky and Water I.
    
Hofstadter in Legacy briefly comments upon this, pointing out the even 'balance' of the composition.

Last updated 14 November 2005 ( Hofstadter reference 20 December 2005)

 

[24] FISH AND FROGS
Bool 364
Wood engraving
October 1949, drawing 50, July 1942

Again, another wood engraving for the purpose of a subsequent exhibition card, for the Goois museum in Hilversum of 12 June-12 July 1954. Presumably, Escher did a series of these type of prints for cards, and rather than doing so contemporaneously did a batch of them. As such, this has much in common with the preceding one (Bool 363), at least in style, format and scale.
Such matters aside, this is based on land and sea, and is of another of the quick counterchanges, with six stages.
     Escher can be seen to have reversed the normal, logical placing the motifs, as here the sea creatures are above the land ones. Presumably, this was by intent, as the correct placements would have been just as easily accomplished as the other.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[25] BUTTERFLIES
Bool 369
Wood engraving
June 1950, drawing 70, March 1948
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 27 and Art and Science (John F. Rigby), pages 211-213.

Although appearing as an ordinary wood engraving at first sight, consisting of butterflies that are released or are alternatively escaping from their tessellation framework, from which they also grow in size and development, this belies some quite involved mathematics behind the scenes. Indeed, such matters were beyond the scope of Escher, of which here he essentially uses a mathematical diagram without needing or requiring to understand the mathematics behind this. An excellent explanation of this is shown by Rigby, who discusses the intricacies behind this print in Art and Science, from which it will be seen that it is based upon a grid of diminishing circles, the mathematics of which is involved is of a decidedly advanced nature.
     Quite simply, the intricacy involved renders this print only suitable in matters of appreciation for those who can understand the mathematics behind it. Leaving such background matters aside, this print; therefore, due to its apparent simplicity of ‘merely’ a developmental nature cannot thus be assessed aesthetically as of the top ranking of Escher's work.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[26] DEVILS
Bool 370
Wood engraving
1950, drawing 62, January 1944

This vignette was composed for an invitation card for an joint exhibition of Escher's and a colleague for a gallery in Amsterdam of 14 November-14 December 1950, and this was also later subsequently reused for another exhibit solely of Escher’s, of 3-29 October 1953. The choice of motifs here seems somewhat surprising to include for this purpose, as these motifs are hardly the most welcoming.
     Such matters aside, the print is based upon a considerably earlier drawing that precedes the print by six years. From this, Escher then uses a ‘two-unit column’ of the motifs, from which consequently as the outside edges of these are thus no longer are of a tessellation nature, are thus effectively ‘freed-up’ for a more realistic outline. This is notably shown by the tails, which are considerably more sinuous here. Likewise with the devils at the top and bottom, where the lower one assumes a sitting position so fitting in the framework of the cards rectangular format. However, in these particular examples, consisting of ‘imaginary’ motifs such as devils, this is not readily a feature of undue requirement.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[27] NEW YEAR’S GREETING-CARD 1951 L. AND K. ASSELBERGS [WINGED UNICORNS]
Bool 371
Wood engraving
October 1950, drawing 78, October 1950

This is the second of the two wood engraving prints for a New Year’s greetings cards undertook for the Asselbergs, of which he uses a contemporary drawing, of an imaginary creature, a ‘winged unicorn’. Quite what idea Escher is portraying here is decidedly unclear, and indeed, it is feasible that nothing as such was intended beyond ‘merely’ showing a tessellation-based composition. In general, the winged unicorns remain in their tessellation framework, with the lower one sitting down, presumably for reasons of adapting to the cards format, thus entailing no ‘unnecessary’ empty space, likewise with the Asselbergs name. The winged unicorns are shown changing in coloration from black at the bottom to white at the top in a gradual manner, but not in a counterchange sense per se.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[28] PREDESTINATION
Bool 372
Lithograph
January 1951, drawing 80, November 1950
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 17 and Structural, page 47.
Preparatory drawings in: World, pages 185-186.

This lithograph is interesting in that Escher uses a device for the first time whereby a single outline can represent two distinct motifs (of which I have written about in Processes), namely of a bird and fish. Such instances of this feature are most rare, for the obvious reason of the outline having to represent an additional motif (presumably on account of such rarity, these motifs can also be seen again in a later print, of June 1957, Bool 416). Furthermore, purely by chance, the motifs portrayed here, of birds and fishes, form a natural opposite in terms of their respective abodes, from which for compositional purposes such combinations are ideal.
     As to the print itself, this is one of the better ones in terms of clarity of idea, as there is no obscurity in what is occurring here. Essentially, birds and fish develop from their respective frameworks, forming a series of loops, which by their very nature lead to an inevitable outcome whereby the motifs collide, with the ferocious fish grabbing the bird, a set of circumstances dictated by the composition, hence the title of Predestination. In contrast to the usual scenario in real life of birds eating fish, the roles are reversed here – this thus neatly illustrates the ‘lack of morality’ (again, see Processes) concerning tessellation motifs, as the motifs dictate the outline, despite a somewhat less than savoury outcome at times, as with the above.
    Escher wrote in relative detail of the intricacies of this print, of which an article by J. C. Ebbinge Wubben in Openbaar kunstbezit (Public Art Collection) discussed this, of which a translation of Escher's aims in this matter can be found in Visions of Symmetry, page 238.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[29] PLANE FILLING I
Bool 373
Mezzotint
March 1951, drawing 83, March 1951
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 17 and Escher on Escher, page 32.

This mezzotint is noticeably different in nature than with Escher's examples containing tessellation elements, as it does not have any story or compositional aspects to it, as he essentially repeats the periodic drawing that it is based upon. Consequently, the comments that apply to the periodic drawing thus remain relevant here, of which I thus defer to.

Last updated 14 November 2005

 

[30] PLANE FILLING MOTIF WITH FISH AND BIRD
Bool 376
Linoleum cut
1951, drawing 84, April 1951
Discussed in: Legacy (Douglas R. Hofstadter), page 35.

Quite what the reasoning is of this small-scale, asymmetric distribution of the motifs (four fish, one bird) linoleum cut remains to be seen. As such, it somewhat crudely and differently rendered, as the scales of the fish possess no degree of three-dimensionality (in contrast to his other fish examples, such as with Sky and Water I) along with the bird possessing only an eye, with no other detail. However, as regards his compositions, Escher was meticulous, and so presumably this was not simply a arbitrary choice. Even so, this to me still very much appears to be a study of sorts, possibly involving the technique of linoleum cutting, and nothing more. However, Hofstadter waxes lyrical about this, seeing deeper meaning in its apparent simplicity.
     Of this 'small scale' type, Escher generally releases the motifs or at least ‘frees up’ the outer lines, but this print does none of this, with the motifs remaining 'as shown' in their source drawing, No.84. Whatever, despite Hofstadter's views, it contains nothing of innovation or substance, and so is thus it is not of any consequence.

Last updated 14 November 2005 (added Hofstadter reference 20 December  2005)

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