Maurits Cornelis Escher, best known for his mathematically inspired prints, was born on June 17, 1898 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Escher spent much of his childhood in Arnhem where he attended school. Though he did well at drawing, Escher did not excel in other subjects and received poor grades. From 1919 – 1922, Escher attended the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem where he initially studied architecture but shifted to drawing and printmaking.
After finishing school, Escher traveled through Italy, where he met Jetta Umiker, whom he married in 1924. For the next 11 years, Escher traveled throughout Italy, sketching for the prints he would make back in Rome. The couple remained in Rome until 1935 when growing political turmoil (under Mussolini) prompted them to move first to Switzerland and then to Ukkel, a small town near Brussels, Belgium. In 1941, as German troops occupied Brussels, they moved once again to Baarn, Netherlands, where Escher lived until 1970.
During his lifetime, Escher created 448 lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and sketches. His work portrays mathematical relationships among shapes, figures and space and many of his drawings are composed around interlocking figures (tessellations) and impossible objects. Escher used vivid contrasts of black and white to enhance different dimensions and integrated into his works were mirror images of cones, spheres, cubes, rings and spirals.
By the 1950s Escher had become highly popular and gave lectures around the world. He received the Order of Oranje Nassau in 1955. In 1958 he was featured in Time magazine and had his first important exhibition in Washington. Escher’s work continued to be popular and he traveled several times to North America for lectures and to see his son George who was living in Canada. In 1970 he moved to Rosa-Spier house in Laren, Netherlands, a retirement home for artists, where he died on March 27, 1972.
I remember as a teenager being amazed by M.C. Escher after receiving a book of his drawings. At that time, I was more interested in how cool the optical illusions were. These days, my appreciation for his work goes deeper than that. I am in awe of the skill and imagination it would have taken to create the drawings. His ability to create works of art that master perspective and dimension, reality and fantasy, make him (in my view) one of the greatest graphic artists of all time.