Maurits Cornelis Escher
Maurits Cornelis Escher

Maurits Cornelis Escher (M.C. Escher) is a well-known graphic artist and was born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands in 1898. During 1919, Escher studied in an architecture and art school in Haalem and after his teacher saw his paintings, he found Escher’s talents and told Escher to do drawings and printmaking. His early works features nature, drawing reflections drawings and symmetrical patterns and shapes.

Optical Art began to be called “Op Art” in the 1960s as many artists began to experiment with different visual effects of the kind that M.C. Escher had been applying to his works for years.
‘Seated Man with cat on his lap’ – 1919 – By M.C.Escher – Woodcut. 90mm x 117mm
‘Eight Heads’- 1922- By M.C.Escher – Woodcut printed once from the whole block and eight times from different parts- 340mm x 325mm
‘Self Portrait’- 1919- By M.C.Escher – Woodcut – 131mm x 175mm

Through his early works, you can see the ideas of Op Art as the use of line patterns to create two dimensional effects and also the repeated patterns refer to Op Art as well.
The Alhambra
The Alhambra

During 1922 and 1936, he visited a fourteenth-century Muslim palace in Southern Spain named the Alhambra (al-HAM-bruh). When he was there, he sketched hundreds of patterns he found in the palace. He fascinated with the geometric aspect of the Alhambra and so it inspires him to do something about geometric patterns on his artworks. His brother also gave him advice and told him to read informations about mathematics and symmetry. He went from this direction and apply those elements onto his artworks. During 1937, Escher started to develop his artworks through his inspiration from the complex mathematics Islamic geometric patterns he found from the Alhambra.
‘Mural Mosaic in The Alhambra’-  1922- By M.C. Escher – Tessellations 

The Alhambra features Islamic patterns and on below,  Faith Gelgi wrote an article about Escher’s artworks and entitled “The Influence of Islamic Art” for the Fountain Magazine. The content is about that:

“In Islamic art, the spiritual world is regarded as being reflected in nature through geometry and rhythm. Hence, Islamic artist used geometry as an aid to raise their spiritual understanding as well as the viewer’s.” (Gelgi, 2010)

Gelgi also quotes the North Texas Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts that:

“Muslim intellectuals recognized in geometry the unifying intermediary between the material and the spiritual world. These patterns may be seen as symbolizing the Islamic principles of ‘Tawhid’ (the unity of all things) and ‘Mizan’ (order and balance), which are the laws of creation in Islam. (Gelgi, 2010)

Tessellations in Islamic patterns:
Alhambra Tile Tessellations

Escher describes the word ‘tessellations’ as a mathematical term which is for tiling and there are no empty spaces or overlaps in between the shapes and he thought that it is “the richest source of inspiration that I have ever tapped”. He noticed that the Islamic patterns never involved patterns of animals and plants and so he has added his creativity and transform his idea using the inspiration from the Alhambra tiling and involved with the nature for example: plants and animals.”Tessellations are one of the major components of Islamic art. Islamic artists mastered regular division of plane using, in particular, circles on triangular or square grids, because the circle – which has no beginning and no end and thus symbolizes infinity – was considered to be the most perfect geometric form. In mosques, where a wealth of these geometric patterns could be found, one could contemplate the infinite nature of God simply by looking at the walls or ceiling. In short, these geometric forms expressed Islamic artists’ fascination with mathematics as a metaphor for divine order and presence.” (Neman, 2011)
‘Bird/Fish (No.22)’ – 1938- By M.C. Escher- India ink, colored pencil, watercolor

On above is an example of Escher’s work which is inspired by the tessellations of Islamic Art.
From 1956, he started to focusing on infinite in his artworks and on below is an example of his work. The patterns are repeated and mirrors each other.
‘Smaller and Smaller’ – 1956- By M.C. Escher- Wood engraving and woodcut in black and brown- printed from 4 blocks- 380mmx 380 mm

‘Smaller and Smaller’ reminds me of Bridget Riley’s work ‘Blaze 1’ in 1962 as the patterns getting smaller and smaller towards the middle and create an illusion of a swirl shape.
‘Blaze 1’ -1962- By Bridget Riley- Emulsion on hardboard – 109 x 109cm

Escher reflects on the Islamic patterns a lot which inspires him a lot on his artworks by using the tessellations figures and abstracted geometrical shapes and he began to develop his artworks with a mathematical eye. Nowadays, his works also displayed in art and even science museums as well.

When lecturing in his later life, he asked the audience whether they know any tessellations work which were done by other artist in the past. Koloman Moser’s artwork ‘Forellenreigen’ is an example of what he had found, The art piece features fish tessellations and it was done around 1899 to 1902 which is before Escher was born.
‘ Forellenreigen’- 1899- By Koloman Moser- Watercolor on paper- 44 x 38cm
Escher’s artwork:
‘Relativity’- 1953- By M.C.Escher- Lithograph- 294mm x 282mm

Escher’s works are famous for his impossible constructions art and his experiments with impossible spaces, architecture and perspective within his works. He shows the audience through his artworks that reality is fascinating and marvelous. On above is one of his artwork named ‘Relativity’. I think it links to Op art because the way how the work captures different directions and the way it looks two dimensional. It reminds me of the painting ‘Descending’ in 1965/6 by Bridget Riley as the use of the patterns going from different direction to create two dimensional effects.
‘Descending’ – 1965/6 – By Bridget Riley – Emulsion on hardboard- 91.5 x 91.5 cm

Other famous artwork from Escher are ‘Ascending and Descending’, Metamorphosis I, Metamorphosis II, Metamorphosis III, Reptiles, Sky & Water I, etc. 




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