Getting to Know M.C. Escher

If you love illusions in art, then chances are that you love M.C. Escher. If you don’t love him yet, then you will after reading this. Despite what his name might have you think, M.C. Escher is not, in fact, a rapper. Although, if he were, he’d probably be pretty awesome. Instead, Escher is one of the most notable graphic artists of all time. 

Obviously, we’re big fans over here at the Museum of Illusions NYC. We’re big fans of every illusion artist because they paved the way for some of the illusions that we know and love today. Escher is no different. His famous lithographs, woodcuts, and mezzotints still inspire artists, scientists, and mathematicians to this day. 

So, without further ado, let’s dive into the man, the legend, the father of literal illusions– M.C. Escher.

Early Years

Maurits Cornelis (MC) Escher was born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1898. He was the youngest of four sons born to George Arnold Escher and Sara Gleichman. The home in which he was born is now the Princessehoff Ceramics Museum. When Escher was five, his family relocated to Arnhem, where he began attending school. 

Escher was never a star student. In fact, as you will see, he failed out of school quite a few times. He was a sickly child, and his grades were always poor. However, he always excelled at math, and he always had a knack for drawing. 

Graphic artist M.C. Escher at work. For the Museum of Illusions New York blog.
M.C Escher at work. credit: Wikimedia Commons

Escher’s Studies

In 1918, Escher began his post-secondary education at the Technical College of Delft. When Delft didn’t work out, he began his studies at the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts. He began his career at the Haarlem School studying architecture. But, still being in poor health, he failed a number of his classes and switched to studying decorative arts. 

Upon graduation, Escher spent a long time traveling through Italy. It was there that he met his wife, Jetta Umiker. The two move to Rome, and Escher formally begins his art career.

Geometry and Illusions

Escher, notably inspired by the tessellations in Islamic art, created work that was mathematical in theme. Most of his early drawings, woodcuts, and lithographs feature a geometrical pattern. For example, his Regular Division of the Plane series served as the basis for much of his later art, such as the pattern featured in Reptiles

This use of pattern, repetition and the creation of mathematical impossibilities in art made a greater impact on the math world than it did the art world. Mathematician Doris Schattschneider wrote extensively about Escher and credits him with inspiring eleven strands of mathematical and scientific research.  

Escher and the Art World

Despite the ingenuity and memorability of his art, Escher was never fully accepted by the art world in his lifetime. This is mostly due to the fact that he never quite belonged to any of the major art movements. It wasn’t until the 1960s when psychedelic culture took over and he was credited as being the father of psychedelic art, that the world at large turned an eye towards the artist.

Regardless of his being eschewed by the art world, Escher lived quite the life. He famously turned down Mick Jagger’s request to design an album cover. In a fan letter, Jagger addressed Escher by his first name, which the artist found distasteful. In his response to Jagger’s assistant, he said: “Please tell Mr. Jagger that I am not Maurits to him.” He also denied Stanley Kubrick’s request to help turn 2001: A Space Odyssey into a “fourth-dimensional film.” 

M.C. Escher's works animated in a museum in Brazil.
M.C. Escher’s works on display at the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center. credit: Wikimedia Commons

Escher’s Prevalence 

Since Escher’s death in 1972, his work has been admired and sampled around the world. Due to the mathematical nature of his art, his style is especially endurant in video games and graphic design. If your favorite video game features an “endless staircase” playstyle, like Monument Valley, you have Escher to thank for that.

Many of the illusions that hang in our galleries at the Museum of Illusions NYC were inspired by the works of M.C. Escher. Works such as The Impossible Triangle likely wouldn’t exist without his impact.  If you are ready to step into the world of illusions, then look no further than the MOI New York. Book your visit here– see you soon!