Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972)

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Post by Sue Lewis

The graphic artist, M. C. Escher, known to his friends as Mauk, was born on 17 June 1898, at 07:15, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (Rodden Rating: AA). His chart resembles a paper aeroplane with green wings and has a vertical emphasis. Seven planets are in the fourth quadrant, and five are in airy Gemini, Sun with Neptune, and Moon with Mercury and Pluto. Sun makes a quincunx to Uranus in Sagittarius, while Moon is in opposition. Mercury opposes Saturn in Sagittarius and Escher was not a happy schoolboy. He was chastised for being left-handed and his intelligent curiosity went unrecognized. The schoolhouse would eventually be transformed into a house of stairs opening up a range of perspectives.

Escher natalMoon also opposes Saturn, making a Stimulus Triangle with intercepted Mars in Taurus and forming one of the wings of the aeroplane. Escher led a structured life and did not like his routines disturbed by visitors questioning him on the deeper significance of his work. With Gemini lightness of touch he wrote:

My subjects are… often playful. I cannot help mocking all our unwavering certainties. It is, for example, great fun deliberately to confuse two or three dimensions, the plane and space, or to poke fun at gravity.

escher_fatherApart from a detailed portrait of his father with a magnifying glass, Escher’s people tend to be stylized, and he emphasizes the power of repetitive change. The eye follows the direction of the evolving forms, not to their logical conclusion, but to something unexpected that emerges and changes the perspective. During World War 2 he produced a profoundly moving lithograph of optimists meeting pessimists in a circular space that reminds one of prison walls, and this is one of his darkest works.

Besides the Stimulus Triangle, there are three other triangles in Escher’s predominantly mutable aspect structure that all converge on Uranus, so it is no surprise that his work was original, innovative and struck a chord with twentieth-century minds. Sun makes an idealistic and aspirational Search Triangle with Venus in Cancer and Uranus, and a Large Learning Triangle with Jupiter in Libra and Uranus, while Jupiter and Uranus make an Ambivalence Triangle with the Moon. Neptune imbues the Sun with sensitivity and compassion, while Pluto intensifies the Mercurial precision of the craftsman and the engagement of the Moon. Without being fully integrated into the aspect patterns, Neptune and Pluto exert a subtle influence, just as Escher’s work fascinates the viewer, expanding our awareness and self-reference.

The interrelationships between dark and light, time and eternity, space and infinity, mirror images that turn into something different, interlocking worlds of heaven, earth and ocean, snakes and ladders, stairways leading nowhere, metamorphoses from geometrical forms to bees, to fish, to birds, to buildings, and so on, endeared his carefully crafted woodcuts and lithographs to academic mathematicians in the 1950s, some of whom contributed to his later work. In the 1960s pop stars caught on and he became a cult figure of psychedelic art. Escher was ambivalent to this fame, found it hard to keep up with requests for prints from America, and wanted more time to follow up new ideas. Notably, he turned down requests to design an album sleeve for Mick Jagger and a screen-set for Stanley Kubrick. He was, however, very pleased to be written about by the renowned art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich.

escher_day-and-night_300Despite his widespread popularity in Britain as well as North America, museum curators regarded Escher as a craftsman rather than an artist and the only print in a British public collection was acquired by the Geography Department of the University of Glasgow and later transferred to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. A woodcut of ‘Night and Day’, one of his most popular, is among the 91 exhibits now on show at Dulwich Art Gallery in South London. This is the largest exhibition of Escher’s work ever to be shown in the UK. The collection is on loan from the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, and was in Edinburgh before it moved to London, where is will be until 17 January 2016. Meanwhile, you can see a few more prints on the website http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/

Featured image is part of a self portrait by Escher: “EscherSelf1929” by Official M.C. Escher website. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EscherSelf1929.jpg#/media/File:EscherSelf1929.jpg