Review: M. C. Escher: Infinite Dimensions



In his artwork, Escher plays with distortion to defy dimensions.

Tina Little, Staff Writer

One of the most well-known “impossible” shapes is the Penrose Triangle, a shape seemingly visually possible, but physically impossible. Well, the inspiration for this triangle did not come from intense mathematics, but rather prints by Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher. In the 1920s, Escher began creating his complex prints and drawings. One of the concepts he is best known for is his ability to defy space, time and physics in his geometrical designs.

From tessellations to optical illusions, Escher’s artwork gives the viewer a puzzling experience in trying to understand how his drawings work. His works are currently on view at the M. C. Escher: Infinite Dimensions exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The room is geometric, as well, with two slanted walls in the middle, playing well with the geometric theme of Escher’s drawings. In addition to Escher’s final works, rough drafts accompany the final works so one can see the process Escher took to make his art. Next to each painting is an insightful anecdote by a professional, from professors to musicians to poets, describing their experience with the work.

Though Escher was unappreciated in the art community during his time, mathematicians and psychologists were fascinated with his work because of the skill it took to create these images. Escher played a lot with reflections, abstract structures and tessellations, which are a pattern of interwoven images.

In Escher’s Still Life with Mirror, a colorless image of a mirror is sitting on a table, reflecting a street. Instead of seeing just the image of the street, you see it through a reflection or from a different point of view. It forces the viewer to look at the scene from a sort of second-hand source. You are not sure if what is in the mirror is really what the street looks like or if it is distorted in some way. Additionally, it begs the question of where you are in the situation. If you are looking in the mirror, where is your reflection? It is a very intriguing drawing because it has a subtle abstractness to it.

One of Escher’s more abstract works is Belvedere. At first glance, it looks like a normal picture of a building on a hill. Medieval figures like jesters and queens walk and climb around the white building and in the distance one sees many hills and landscapes. But, on closer look,the  pillars don’t line up the right way. The outside pillars, in fact, stand on the opposite side of the building and vice versa. While it looks like it should work, it is impossible. The illusion puzzles the viewer. Though the building is the main aspect of the drawing, the small details like the different people and landscape are very defined and help bring out the illusion.

Lastly, in his painting Metamorphosis II, Escher creates a series of tessellations that merge together in a long chain. Stretching 153 inches, it depicts different scenes like castles and wasps that fade into each other. It begins and ends with thousands of tiny stripes and the words “metamorphose.” Similar to the metamorphosis of bugs and how they procreate at the end of their cycle, the painting starts over and recreates itself. Escher’s tessellations require a lot of mathematics, and he is able to connect many different kinds of complex shapes into one print.

Overall, the exhibit is not as big as expected but one could still understand and get a taste of Escher’s work with the amount presented.

Escher’s art not only broke barriers in terms of the art world but also impressed mathematicians and scientists from all over the world. M. C. Escher: Infinite Dimensions is available at the MFA until May 28.