Prints 30-65

[31] TWO INTERSECTING PLANES
Bool 377
Woodcut in green, black and brown, printed from three blocks
January 1952, drawing 34, March 1941
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 13.

This woodcut is innovative as it contains an idea that is essentially new, in that Escher takes two ‘strips’ of an apparently arbitrary tessellation (he could have used others), and thereby tilts these at right angles to each other at a shallow incline so that at a single point these intersect, hence the title. As such, this is very much of the type whereby Escher sets out to challenge himself, in effect a private exercise, as despite such a possibility being successfully achieved here the print lacks the aesthetic purity of his more popular works. Of interest is the fact that his used a drawing that was just over ten years old. This thereby suggests that the idea of such a thing arose in his imagination, and so did not occur due to the ‘suggestion’ of a contemporary drawing.

 

[32] EARTH, NEW YEAR'S GREETING-CARD 1954
Bool 382
Woodcut in blue-grey and brown, printed from two blocks, with letterpress in grey
October 1952, drawing 86, July 1952

This woodcut forms the first of a series of four prints of new year’s greetings cards commissioned by Eugène and Willy Strens (for the years 1953-1956) on the theme of the four elements, namely earth, air, fire and water, and so are all of a similar nature as to style and format. (Furthermore, the prints are all based upon his tessellations whereby composition does not play a feature, and effectively merely reproduce a square format of the respective motifs, with only minor changes, if at all. Interestingly, although not of any real importance, this is the first one of his prints whereby the motifs are delineated by a white line/space, in contrast to the more common black outlines of the periodic drawings. However, in his prints he generally does not need to use such features, as they are, due to compositional reasons whereby the motifs are more clearly delineated, unnecessary.)
     The motifs here represent Earth, and are taken directly from the periodic drawing with no inherent changes, although the motifs are turned 45° in relation to the drawing for the card.


[33] AIR, NEW YEAR'S GREETING-CARD 1953
Bool 383
Woodcut in green and brown, printed from two blocks, with letterpress in grey
October 1952, drawing 92, February 1954

The second of the series of the cards, with bird motifs representing air. The background to this is not of the greatest clarity. Schattschneider in Visions of Symmetry states that drawing 87 is the source for this, but, although of a similar nature, this is not strictly so, as the birds are based upon a kite in the print instead of the quadrilateral of the periodic drawing. More exactly, the birds here pertain to drawing 92, of 1954. However, the prints in the series are all apparently of 1952, and so there is a discrepancy in such chronological matters. Possibly, Escher did another version of drawing 87, of a study nature (used for the print here), and subsequently, in 1954 redrew as a finished example.
     Again, the motifs remain essentially unchanged in the print; the only minor difference being the bird’s interior body has now been more clearly defined.

 

[34] FIRE, NEW YEAR'S GREETING-CARD 1955
Bool 384
Woodcut in yellow and orange, printed from two blocks, with letterpress in grey
October 1952, drawing 62, January 1944

The third of the series of the cards, with devil-like motifs representing fire. Escher here makes minor changes to the underlying source drawing, as the motifs possess tails of a more sinuous nature, and furthermore at the extremities of the print, having more freedom they are much larger, and they also have their pointing fingers more marginally raised. In addition, to fit in more with the cards square format, the two lower devils have been drawn accordingly with this in mind.

 

[35] WATER, NEW YEAR'S GREETING-CARD 1956
Bool 385
Woodcut in green and blue, printed from two blocks, with letterpress in grey
October 1952, drawing 58, November 1942

The fourth and final of the series of the cards, with fish representing water. Escher makes minor changes to the extremities of the outer fishes to accommodate the format of the card.

 

[36] TREES AND ANIMALS
Bool 391
Wood engraving
1953, drawing 64, August 1944

A somewhat mysterious woodcut, based upon one of Escher’s few non-animate tessellations, which is itself somewhat unusual in its tessellating nature. Escher here uses the leaves of the source drawing for compositional purposes, of which the natural association is with trees, and therefore composes a print based upon this theme. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this print is that of the mirror symmetry, and indeed, this is the first print of its type with this aspect to the fore (although other prints display mirror symmetry, this is very much of a secondary nature). As with the preceding cards, this appears to have been adapted to fit in the constraints of an apparently arbitrary rectangular format (as this was a non-commissioned work). As such, the print is somewhat enigmatic as it is not obvious at first glance at what is being portrayed here. Indeed, different interpretations can be put on this, and whether by accident or design it reminds me very much of one of those pictures whereby amongst the scenery various features are hidden or disguised in some way, in which the viewer is then invited to search for, upon which here birds and squirrels can be found amongst the foliage.
     Indeed, if this is what Escher was intending here, this is admirably demonstrated, but the above interpretation of my own remains speculative. Further motifs are to be found in the lower half of the print, and essentially these are added as of a necessity, to fill-in what would be black or white space, of otherwise a block of ‘colour’. However, almost certainly, if I have interpreted the print correctly, Escher would ideally have been omitted these if possible, as they are not germane to the composition per se. Therefore, this aspect can thus arguably be described as somewhat non-aesthetic nature, as the lower bird motifs are redundant, having been added for the purposes of expediency.

 

[37] 'E IS EEN EZEL' [ DONKEY]
Bool 392
Wood engraving
1953, drawing A12, 1953

In contrast to most of Escher's works of an animate form, this is an example of the non-representational type, consisting of a series of what can be described as letter E’s. Presumably, as Escher would have previously known this particular tessellation, as it occurs frequently in various publications, he did not therefore need to compose anew.
     Concerning the print itself, the centre has been omitted to accommodate a braying donkey, of which without further clarification such an appearance may appear somewhat obscure, of which the tessellating letter E represents Ezel, the Dutch for donkey. This was undertaken for the purpose of a booklet for Grafisch ABC, of which to illustrate his name the letters M and E (Maurits Escher), of which a subsequent print (Bool 393, of a non-tessellating nature) shows the letter M. Due to the relative simplicity of the print, there is nothing here of any real significance as regards compositional matters.

 

[38] FISH, VIGNETTE
Bool 398
Wood engraving
August 1954, drawing 99, July 1954

This vignette was created for an invitation card for an exhibit of Escher's work at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, of 27 August-26 September 1954, in conjunction with the International Mathematical Conference of that year.
     Again, it is of a most simple type, indeed the simplest possible, as he uses drawing 99 with no inherent change, effectively choosing, somewhat strangely, a non-symmetrical composition of a ‘block’ of so-called ‘fish’.

 

[39] LIBERATION
Bool 400
Lithograph
April 1955, drawing 71, April 1948
Discussed in: Graphic Work, pages 13-14 and Art and Science (Marianne L. Teuber), pages 175-176.

This lithograph shows the concept of liberation, and although Escher frequently said that his works were not of a metaphoric nature, the title perhaps epitomises the ending of the relatively recent war. Such matters aside, the print consists of an unfurled strip of paper from which, after having gone through a series of transformations from an intrinsically formless beginning of grey, to equilateral triangles of a contrasting nature, their lines gaining in angularity until a tessellation fragment of birds is thus formed. From this, the birds are then increasingly released from their confinement, hence the concept and title of a liberation. As such, an exemplary print in concept, of which the essence of the idea is immediately clear.

 

[40] FISH, VIGNETTE
Bool 406
Woodcut
[1955], drawing 94, August 1955

A vignette, commissioned for use as a greetings card. Again, this rigidly adheres to the periodic drawing, as no changes are made concerning the motifs, the composition being of a order 6 rotational nature.

 

[41] SWANS (WHITE SWANS, BLACK SWANS)
Bool 408
Wood engraving
February 1956, drawing 96, December 1955
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 12, Magic Mirror, page 99 and Art and Science (Marjorie Senechal), page 104.
Preparatory drawing in: World, page 220.
Concept drawing in: Magic, page 163.

This has similarities in style with two earlier prints, Two Intersecting Planes of January 1952 in that the motif is shown in a flattened state, essentially alike as with a jigsaw puzzle piece and with the Horseman print of July 1946 in terms of composition.
     Quite what idea that is being portrayed here is not clear. Even amongst renowned mathematicians, there is disagreement, with Ernst and Senechal (above), stating this is based upon a Moebius band and a cylinder respectively. Escher briefly commented upon this (giving neither of the above two proposals), published in Visions of Symmetry, page 309, whereby he states that its main purpose is to simply demonstrate principles of glide reflection without having anything of a more meaningful nature in terms of composition.

 

[42] DIVISION
Bool 411
Woodcut, second state
July 1956, drawing 101, October 1956?
Preparatory drawings in: World, page 224 and Magic, page 69.

As such, the source for this is unclear - although the motifs are based upon an earlier drawing, No.35 of July 1941, these do not resemble these in the strictest sense, as Escher here ‘splits’ them, of which a subsequent periodic drawing, as above, is more relevant. Again, it is likely that these are derived from a study that was not shown as a finished numbered drawing until later, hence the apparent discrepancy of the dates.
     Such background matters aside, this print is interesting in a number of ways, as it marks the return, in broad terms, of a ‘developmental’ nature, albeit here, the motifs are of a reduction of a self-similar nature. This was the first such example, the last having been undertaken in February 1939, and indeed this here was followed by a succession of like prints.
    Undoubtedly, the most noticeable aspect of this print is the ‘style’ of the motifs of what I term as of a ‘curtailed’ nature, of which the effect is most odd, and indeed Escher did not use this again – as such, due to this factor, it is most difficult to assess this in terms of its ‘success’ or not. Indeed, this is one of the few prints I have not been able to recreate in order to understand how Escher went about his compositions. Consequently, due to lacking any real insight, the following merely states a few observations on this. Firstly, although obscure, the print is clearly systematic, of a self-similar nature, with lizards being ‘curtailed and combined’ to produce the effect. Now, quite whether this is good or not in an aesthetic sense is debatable, and it may very well be that Escher is using this simply as a tour de force in self-similarity for the sake of it, and so without further knowledge of what Escher is portraying here any further speculations by myself seem inappropriate.

 

[43] NEW YEAR’S GREETING-CARD PTT
Bool 412
Wood engraving
September 1956, drawing 100, August 1956

A commissioned work, undertaken for PTT the Dutch, Postal, Telephone and Telegraph service. Escher here, in contrast to his previous tessellation-based commissions, apparently especially devised this for the specific purposes of PTT rather than his ‘usual’ way of selecting from an existing periodic drawing.
    As to the composition, Escher here takes a letter with wings added to it, perhaps suggesting the swiftness delivery nature of the company, from which he then releases these from their tessellating grid by the simple expediency of reducing in scale each succeeding letter of a ‘hexagonal ring’. As such, there is no ‘complex composition’ behind this, the reduction being purely mechanical.

 

[44] SMALLER AND SMALLER
Bool 413
Wood engraving and woodcut in black and brown, printed from four blocks
October 1956, drawing 35, July 1941
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 14, Escher on Escher, pages 41 and 125 and Mathematical Implications, page 53.
Preparatory drawing: Magic, pages 68-69.

An example of an ‘self-similar’ composition, with the lizard-like motifs reducing in size in a systematic way as they approach the centre, hence the title of Smaller and Smaller. As such, presumably by default, this is a straightforward exercise in demonstrating the principal of reduction, as apart from the four outer lizards that are released slightly from the grid (more precisely their extremities), the others remain in situ. Although drawing 35 is indeed the source, it can be seen that Escher varies this slightly for the print, with the lizards’ eyes centralised and minor changes made to the arms and legs. This particular print marks a watershed in Escher's development, as from this point he concentrates on ‘infinity’ type of prints in contrast to the ‘story element’ of his earlier ones.

 

[45] FISH, VIGNETTE
Bool 414
Wood engraving
November 1956 (no numbered drawing)

A vignette designed for an exhibition card of four graphic artists (including Escher) held in the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, of January-February 1957, and was this was later re-used with two further exhibits.
     Curiously, the motifs here have no underlying periodic drawing, and so, presumably, Escher had previously undertaken a preceding study that he did not continue to the defining stage of a numbered drawing.
    Again, this shows a straightforward exercise of a reducing nature, as the motifs remain in their grid without becoming ‘active’ in any way.

 

[46] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE I
Bool 416
Woodcut in red
June 1957, drawing 80, November 1950
Discussed in: Life and Work, pages 157-159 and Escher on Escher, page 33.

This woodcut marks the first of a series of six prints that Escher undertook for the purposes of his book, Regelmatige vlakverderling (Regular Division), commissioned by the De Roos Foundation in 1957, of which I have detailed in the introduction.
     As to the print itself, Escher here shows the concept of a development in the broadest sense of the word, as upon beginning with a uniform grey this is then transformed by a series of ingenious stages to a tessellation of birds and fish by means of a ‘winding strip,’ presumably formed for the format of the rectangular page. This is essentially a more concise way of showing a metamorphosis rather than a ‘long strip’ as with his previous examples of the same kind. Such a simple description given by the above does not do justice to such a splendid composition, as this essentially requires a deeper analysis as to its intricacies, of which Escher wrote in relative depth of each stage in turn in his book. Although perhaps further comment is therefore superfluous, below I simply state each stage in simple terms:

1. A beginning of grey, with no definition of tessellation whatsoever.
2. The beginnings of a tessellation, with parallelograms appearing, albeit of no contrast.
3. The parallelograms are now shown developing in contrast from the grey.
4. The parallelograms are now more fully contrasted, essentially of a black and white nature.
5. The parallelograms now begin to gradually change in form as regards their outlines.
6. The parallelograms continue with increasing in their angularity of outline.
7. The parallelograms are now in their completed outline, from which no further change is made to these.
8. Bird motifs are now added to the black outlines, with the white serving as the background.
9. Bird motifs are now added to the white outlines, with the black serving as the background.
10. Bird motifs are now added to both black and white outlines.
11. Fish motifs are now added to both black and white outlines.
12. Bird and fish motifs are now added in combination with each other.

Undoubtedly, a tour de force of Escher’s skills is thus displayed here.

 

[47] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE II
Bool 417
Woodcut in red
June 1957, drawings 91, September 1953; 13, 1937-1938 and 99, August 1954
Discussed in: Life and Work, pages 160 and 164-165.

Escher here is concerned with showing principles of symmetry, of translation and rotation, suitably illustrated with both representational (1,2 and 3) and non-representational (A, B and C) examples. Again, he writes in relative detail about these, specifically of the symmetry aspect, but not essentially of the prints composition themselves. Furthermore, the representational examples all involve a counterchange of the linear strip type which Escher, strangely, does not discuss (aspects of which I detail on the Counterchange page of my own). The examples here are all essentially the same, with the respective motifs undergoing the counterchange process of three stages, namely of ground, intermediate and fully developed.

 

[48] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE III
Bool 418
Woodcut in red
June 1957, drawing 67, June December 1955
Discussed in: Life and Work, page 166.

Escher here illustrates the principle of glide reflection, using the Horseman tessellation, of which an counterchange is also shown.

 

[49] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE IV
Bool 419
Woodcut in red
June 1957, drawing 97, December 1955
Discussed in: Life and Work, page 166.

Escher here once more illustrates the principles of glide reflection, using the Bulldogs tessellation, of which an counterchange is also shown.

 

[50] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE V
Bool 420
Woodcut in red
June 1957, no numbered drawing)
Discussed in: Life and Work, page 166.

Escher here once more illustrates the principle of glide reflection, probably with a motifs specially composed for the purpose of the book, as there is no numbered drawing of this, albeit a ‘considered sketch’ with axes of rotational symmetry are denoted (page 167) which accompanies the plate, of which a counterchange is to be seen.

 

[51] REGULAR DIVISION OF THE PLANE VI
Bool 421
Woodcut in red
June 1957, no numbered drawing, elements of 35 and 101)
Discussed in: Life and Work, page 168-169.

Escher here illustrates principles of a self-similar reduction of an apparently arbitrary ‘house-like’ shape that presumably was composed specifically for the convenience of the book, following the rectangular format. This took the form of a variation of an earlier print; Smaller and Smaller, whereby a sequence of diminishing right angled triangles act as the framework for the motifs (and is later repeated in the Square Limit print). Interestingly, in contrast to almost all of his works whereby he insisted on contrast (to aid the definition of the motifs), this example, which of necessity requires a minimum of three colours, breaks his self imposed rule. Presumably, this is on account of retaining the consistency of approach of the series of prints, all of black and white and shown on a grey background.

 

[52] PLANE FILLING II
Bool 422
Lithograph
July 1957, no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 17 and Escher on Escher, page 32.

Escher here repeats an earlier idea of 1951, namely that of ‘free filling,’ possibly as an attempt at building upon the earlier example, as this one contains more motifs. As this print has much in common with the preceding one, the comments are also relevant to this as well, of which I thus defer to.

 

[53] WHIRLPOOLS
Bool 423
Wood engraving and woodcut, second state, in red, grey and black, printed from two blocks
November 1957, no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Graphic Work, pages 14-15; Magic Mirror, pages 106-108; Escher on Escher, page 40 and Mathematical Implications, page 53.
Preparatory drawings in: World, page 228.

Although that I state that this has no direct drawing as its source, elements of the fish motif can be found in a vignette of Escher's for an exhibition card of 1956 (Bool 414).
    This wood engraving and woodcut is interesting in that it is the first overtly spiral print that is based upon tessellating elements, of which such a feature in combination became a major pre-occupation with Escher.
     Interestingly, Escher here combines a spiral with reduction, as here he chose an ‘appropriate’ symmetry drawing (presumably in a study state) to accomplish this aspect, with fish moving in opposite directions, resulting in a most pleasing composition.

 

[54] PATH OF LIFE I
Bool 424
Woodcut in red and black, printed from two blocks
March 1958, drawing 102, March 1958
Discussed in: Magic Mirror, page 106 and Escher on Escher, page 39.

The first of three prints based upon a spiral, ‘path of life’ theme, of which Ernst, in Magic Mirror, interprets this as of a ‘birth, growth and decline’ concept, this here consisting of eight such loops, of which he discusses such concepts in relative detail. As these prints portray somewhat obscure concepts, I thus defer to his writings on the matter rather than attempting to repeat the mathematical intricacies involved. However, below I do indeed give brief, relevant observations of a general nature.
     As such, another of the spiral types, albeit somewhat disguised by the colouring scheme Escher chose, as the outer ring of motifs are divided in their colouring, whilst the inner motifs are essentially shown as of contrasting nature. Typically, the fish motif here (and also of the succeeding prints of the same theme) is of a noticeably poorer quality than with most of his prints, and the reason for this is that as the motifs are somewhat distorted by the reduction process, a ‘vague, ambiguous’ motif outline is of a necessity. In addition, it will be observed that he typically shows a view in which one looks down upon the motifs, essentially showing a symmetrical appearance, this presumably being more suited to the composition. Such examples, more than any other of his tessellating-based prints, are obviously more inclined to a mathematical audience, and hence their general lack of relative popularity as compared with his more favoured works such as Day and Night whereby the content, although unusual, is more readily grasped by a non-mathematical audience.

 

[55] PATH OF LIFE II
Bool 425
Woodcut in grey-green and black, printed from two blocks
March 1958, drawing 102, March 1958
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 14 and Magic Mirror, page 106.

The second of the three prints based upon a spiral ‘Path of Life’ theme. Again, Escher uses the same periodic drawing (102) as with the preceding example, with all of its aesthetic shortcomings and, as with Path of Life I, this is very much alike in its style, the main difference that this consists of four such spiral loops.
     Ernst in Magic Mirror, page 106 rates this print very highly indeed, and of the ‘infinity’ theme (and not just of the Path of Life series) he considers this to be aesthetically the best.

 

[56] SPHERE SURFACE WITH FISH
Bool 427
Woodcut in grey, gold and reddish brown, printed from three blocks
July 1958, drawing A14 [1958]
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 14 and Escher on Escher, page 40.

Escher here essentially sets himself the challenge of portraying a globe with tessellating fish in perspective, and then to add to the complexities this is undertaken with a spiral theme in mind, with the fish spiraling to and from the poles. Now, whether or not this is successful (i.e. correct in all aspects) is unclear, and furthermore the knowledge to judge whether this is so is practically unavailable, due to the non-appearance of the studies of this. However, looking at the print, the impression one gets is that the idea is admirably displayed, and any shortcomings in this aspect are not discernable.
     Somewhat curiously, Escher chose to illustrate this with possibly his poorest tessellation in terms of quality, as the so-called ‘fish’ are most rudimentary, the example given being of what I have termed (in Essay 6, Categories - Assessing the Inherent Quality of Motif) as a 'shape with eyes', in effect of a worthless nature. Quite why he chose this self evidently poor quality motif remains unclear. In his writings, this aspect is not specifically mentioned. Speculating, as this is one of his few of a geometrical outline, such a choice was dictated by the composition, as lines of longitude and latitude on the globe more naturally suit a geometrical tessellation outline, with curved motifs perhaps being unsuitable on this particular occasion.

 

[57] CIRCLE LIMIT I
Bool 429
Woodcut
November 1958, no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 15; Magic Mirror, pages 108-109; Life and Work, pages 92 and 153; Art and Science (Douglas J. Dunham), pages 241-248; Escher on Escher, pages 125-126; The Work, page 15 and Mathematical Implications, page 53.
Preparatory drawings: Magic, page 181.

The first of a series of four prints based on an figure as shown in ‘A Symposium on Symmetry’ by H.S.M. Coxeter pertaining to the hyperbolical plane, of a somewhat complex, mathematically advanced nature, as discussed in more detail above. Essentially Escher thus used the framework for his own purposes, replacing the straight lines and arcs with a rudimentary indefinable geometric motif, of noticeably inferior quality. Again, as with the ‘spiral’ examples, this was probably dictated by the necessity of a ‘vague, ambiguous’ outline due to the restrictions of the reductions. Interestingly, Escher apparently created these motifs on an ad hoc basis for this from previous studies, as there is no numbered drawing preceding this, albeit subsequently, in April 1964, he did indeed complete definitive examples.
     Disregarding the complexities behind the framework, aesthetically the print leaves a lot to be desired, and indeed Escher was also unhappy in this aspect, pointing out the shortcomings. Firstly, the motifs are of a very poor quality, and although termed as ‘fish,’ this description bears only a most tenuous resemblance to the creature. Indeed, these are of the type of which I sharply criticise in Essay 6, Categories - Assessing the Inherent Quality of Motifs, essentially consisting of an outline with eyes, thereby of the lowest possible quality. In the print, Escher has placed the eyes in two distinct ways, effectively reversing the placement in relation to each other. Quite why he did this is unclear, as more naturally the motifs would be uniform in their placement of eyes. Another shortcoming, as Escher pointed out, is that there is no ‘flow’ to the motifs – more specifically the motifs ‘meet up’ head to head, resulting in a ‘jarring’ effect on the eye – aesthetically better would be to have the fish for any one line all swimming in the same direction. However, as this was Escher's first print of this particular type, it is unrealistic to expect perfection in such matters.

 

[58] CIRCLE LIMIT II
Bool 432
Woodcut in red and black,printed from two blocks

March 1959, no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Magic Mirror, page 109; Art and Science (Douglas J. Dunham), pages 241-248 and The Work, page 15.

The second of the series based upon a circle limit theme. This is one of Escher's lesser known works, rarely published, probably on account of its aesthetics, as it consists of a series of crosses of a somewhat disjointed or distorted manner, and so consequently is thus generally overlooked.

 

[59] FISH AND SCALES
Bool 433
Woodcut
July 1959, no numbered drawing
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 15.

Quite what Escher is portraying here is unclear, and although he did indeed comment upon this woodcut, this is really only of a simplified statement of a ‘mutation’ nature. As such, this is a typical example of what I term as ‘clever but obscure,’ lacking the more elegant simplicity of his more popular prints. However, in contrast to most of the ‘obscure’ examples, this retains a certain elegance of its own, as the fish emerge and increase in size, and indeed Escher classified this amongst his ‘infinity’ types.
     However, Ernst clarifies the essence of this with an excellent explanation, in Magic Mirror, page 34 of which due to the inherent complexities of the print I thus essentially defer to, with the comments following being of generalities.
    From this, the print can be seen to be based upon a grid of Escher's own devising, of which he had previously used for an non-tessellating based print (of considerable complexity) Print Gallery of 1956, whereby certain aspects are ‘blown-up,’ as in a bulge.
    A most pleasing compositional aspect to Fish and Scales is the association of ideas with fish developing from the scales of a ‘mother fish’ thereby resulting of a satisfying, logical connection. All in all, although the background to this remains of a difficult to follow nature, aesthetically it retains much of merit.

 

[60] CIRCLE LIMIT III
Bool 434
Woodcut, second state, in yellow, green, blue, brown and black, printed from five blocks December 1959, subsequently drawing 123, April 1964
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 15; Magic Mirror, page 109; Art and Science (Douglas J. Dunham), pages 241-248; Life and Work, pages 100 and 153; Escher on Escher, pages 43 and 122-127; Mathematical Implications, page 53 and Magic (letter to Arthur, March 1960), page 181.

The third of the ‘circle limit’ series, of which aesthetically in terms of the composition Escher improves upon his earlier effort, as here the fish flow in the same direction, whereas previously they abutted each other. Indeed, this example was Escher's favoured one of the genre, of which he stated as such.
     In addition, the fish motifs are more realistically rendered, albeit still much remains to be desired, possibly, but not necessarily, dictated by the demands of the framework.
    As with Circle Limit I, this woodcut does not have a proceeding numbered drawing, and only subsequently (1964) were the motifs used for this shown as a numbered drawing.

 

[61] CIRCLE LIMIT IV (HEAVEN AND HELL)
Bool 436
Woodcut in black and ochre, printed from two blocks
July 1960, drawing 45, December 1941
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 15; Art and Science (Douglas J. Dunham), pages 241-248; Escher on Escher, page 42 and Mathematical Implications, page 54.
Preparatory drawing in: World, page 246.

The fourth and final woodcut of the theme, albeit here this particular one stands as an example in its own right, as Escher is not concerned with the aesthetics of the ‘flow’ aspect of I and III. Although Escher preferred III as the best, personally I favour IV, as here the motifs, of angels and devils, are more readily discernable, as well of being in compositional terms opposites, thereby suiting the two-colour contrast. In contrast, the preceding motifs consist of essentially indefinable creatures, generously described as ‘fish’ by Schattschneider.
     Interestingly, Escher chose for this composition a considerable earlier drawing from 1945, which thus suggest that he trawled through his ‘reservoir’ of drawings searching for a suitable example for what he had in mind. Furthermore, these are shown without too obvious a distortion of their respective outlines, which in terms of aesthetics is obviously a decided gain.

 

[62] FISH
Bool 442
Woodcut
1963, drawing 32, April 1940
Discussed in: Legacy (Douglas R. Hofstadter), pages 34-35.

This woodcut was undertaken for a book by Pam G. Reuter, Zodiac, De tekens van de dierenriem (The Signs of the Zodiac), and represents the constellation Pisces. Although the fish are based upon drawing 32, the print shows a slight variation, as the fish are shortened in respect of their body. Quite why Escher chose to do this is unclear, as the fish of the original drawing are in every respect equal in quality to their shorter-bodied cousins.
     A pleasing compositional element to this is how cleverly Escher suggests a vignette effect solely by the use of black and white lines, and in addition, their sinuous nature is reminiscent of waves, thereby placing the fish in their natural environment. Hofstadter also comments on the 'balance' of the composition, praising it most highly, in which he notes small details that posses inherent symmetry that are easily missed upon a cursory viewing.

 

[63] SQUARE LIMIT
Bool 443
Woodcut in red and black, printed from two blocks
April 1964, drawing 119, February 1964
Graphic Work, page 15; Magic Mirror, page 103-105, Escher on Escher, page 41; Visions of Symmetry 252-253 (letter to H.S.M. Coxeter, 1964, page 253); Magic (letter to Gerd Arnzt, April 1964), page 182.
Preparatory drawings in: World, page 256 and Magic, page 183.

After a relatively brief period of four years since the Circle Limit prints, Escher then returned to this theme of reduction outwards, with a square border rather than a circle as previously. For this, he composed a suitable framework of his own making, based upon a series of right-angled isosceles triangles that systematically reduce in size as the (square) boundary is approached. As such, this framework can be seen in earlier prints, of a differing format, namely with Smaller and Smaller (1956) and Regular Division of the Plane VI (1957). Somewhat surprisingly, for such a simple diagram that essentially anybody could compose, the first such occurrence was indeed of Escher's own devising, of which credit must duly be made.
     As to the print itself, fish-like motifs pertaining to the framework thus reduce in size towards the edge, of which again, as with the Circle Limits I, III and IV these are viewed as seen from above. As such, the reason for such a relatively poor fish-like motif is that the demands of the framework require a line that is of a certain sinuous nature. As such, it may be quite reasonably thought that any tessellation based upon a right-angled isosceles triangle, possessing the correct symmetry (of which a 180° rotation along the hypotenuse, with 90° at the apex) would suffice. However, this is not so, as upon trying to do so with one of my own tessellation, the distortion was too great to be regarded as acceptable, resulting in a malformed creature. Therefore, a certain amount of ambiguity is ideal, as in Escher's fish motifs here.

 

[64] PATH OF LIFE III
Bool 445
Woodcut in red and black, printed from two blocks
November 1966, drawing 125, August 1966
Discussed in: Magic Mirror, page 106 and Visions of Symmetry, page 316.

The third and final print of the series, with the same idea of birth, growth and decline being retained, in a series of six spiral loops, albeit here he uses different motifs. Interestingly though, he once more uses an ‘ambiguous, vague’ motif, this thus once more suggesting that a more realistic creature would not be suitable for the framework.

 

[65] METAMORPHOSIS III
Bool 446
Woodcut, second state, in black, green and reddish brown, printed from thirty-three blocks on six combined sheets, mounted on canvas; partly coloured by hand
1967-68
Discussed in: Graphic Work, page 16; Magic Mirror, page 58 and Visions of Symmetry, pages 254-258 (letter to Gerd Arnzt, September 1967, page 256.

This was effectively Escher's swansong, of which he effectively returns to the task of tessellation per se after a lengthy period whereby he concentrated on his tessellating ‘spatial compositions.’ Indeed, one may be forgiven for thinking that Escher had essentially reached the end of composing tessellations and had no further examples left to give. However, here Escher well and truly sets such matters aside. Furthermore, in his later years, Escher was dogged by ill health, and this, more than any other reason, explains the relative lack of new prints or drawings of whatever subject.
    The genesis of this print arose by a commission once more by the PTT (of which a photograph of the complete metamorphosis in situ can be seen in Magic Mirror, page 60 and partly in Life and Work page 134, whereby it was desired to have a larger scale metamorphosis in the Post Office, effectively by scaling up Metamorphosis II. However, the dimensions of this did not lend themselves to being scaled up sufficiently for the dimensions of the wall, and so Escher thus composed new elements to suit the purpose by effectively ‘inserting’ these into the earlier metamorphosis. Indeed, such a task was a new challenge for Escher, and one of which he admirably rose to the occasion. For this, he used existing tessellations 76a, 100, 112 and 113, along with two newly created ones to ‘accommodate’ these additional elements, 129 and 131. Essentially, these formed two distinct elements or blocks, one short and the other long, consisting of 131 and 112, 129, 76a and 100 respectively. Indeed, the later block is most impressive in many aspects, firstly for its sheer length (of approximately one-third its span of the print) and secondly, whether by accident or design, the motifs mostly metamorphosise in a lineal manner, this being the most aesthetic as previously discussed.
     Again, as with Metamorphosis II, the small-scale reproductions in most books do not do justice to the majesty of this, of which the full size print should ideally be seen to more readily appreciative of the print. However, an example of worth is to be found inside the dust jacket of Magic.
    The completion of the print marked a pleasing symmetry, purely by accident, as Escher essentially began (with Metamorphosis I) and ended (with Metamorphosis III) his life’s work on this theme, a splendid metaphor on which to end his oeuvre.

 
Comments