Monday, 9 November 2015

M C Escher and poetry?

Last week I went along to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the M C Escher exhibition. His art has always fascinated me, his perspectives, his obsession with lines, curves and uniformity. My friend said he must have OCD!

Most of his art is in black and white, though there are a few exceptions. After a solo exhibition in the 1950's two mathematicians, H.S.M. Coxeter and Roger Penrose began  a correspondence with Escher. Roger Penrose recently made a documentary about Escher which I watched a month or so ago. Escher always denied that his art was borne out of mathematics but nevertheless you can see why the two gentlemen may have wondered.

What does the art of M C Escher have to do with poetry, you are wondering? Well, nothing really....except when I look at his art there is form. His pictures conform to a pattern much like some poetry is written to form. They are nicely balanced, rigid in that balance too. One picture entitled Circle Limit IV has angles and devils. The shapes interlock and fan out from the middle, gradually getting smaller and smaller right to the edge, never breaking the pattern. He did many pictures like this with different forms - fish, dwarfs, dragons and so on. He sticks to his patterns and forms, everything is in its rightful place, but often you have to look closely because some tones or colours stand out more and it isn't until you really look hard and break the picture down that you see what he has done (a bit like unpicking a poem and flushing out the equivalent to stressed and unstressed syllables, perhaps?).  Then you stand in amazement.

It was great to see Escher's early studies for pictures (much like drafts for poems). He did use graph paper sometimes but I do wonder what was going on his head to achieve these incredible pictures.
There was one panoramic picture which we spent a lot of time looking at. It is entitled Metamorphose II. The artists describes this as 'a picture story consisting of many successive stages of transformation'. It is not easy to describe so please click here to view a poster of it. At the exhibition it is displayed in one long line, Notice how the word blocks transform into a chess-like board and then into little frog like creatures, into honeycomb and bees and so on, ending with another chess board and word blocks. I love this.

Another favourite of mine is Print Gallery. This is a bit like a free form poem, yet even here there is a certain balance and while it seems more random than some other pictures there are steady curves (similar to line breaks?) There is a poetic form to these pictures, symmetry, style and they are provocative, and like poetry, the more you look the more you see and understand.

I have bought a book of Escher's. It contains his own words explaining his art. Maybe I will learn how he achieved these truly amazing results. The exhibition is on until 17th January at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. I recommend it.

I'm not sure that Escher's art has ever been described as poetic form, and maybe I'm stretching, it a bit, but for me it works.

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