The Amazing World of MC Escher

Given our familiarity with Escher’s unmistakable style it’s hard to believe that this is the first major exhibition of his work in the UK and that there is only one print of his in a British public collection. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art can be justifiably proud of mounting this groundbreaking display, The Amazing World of MC Escher.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art can be justifiably proud of mounting this groundbreaking display, The Amazing World of MC Escher.

Escher's work is instantly recognisable yet most of us probably know little about the man or what he looked like. This exhibition puts both of those right commencing its display of nearly 100 prints and drawings stretching across Escher’s whole career with an intensely introspective self-portrait.

The galleries are arranged chronologically in four rooms: The Early Work; Transformation and Double Imagery; The 1940s and The Late Work. These reveal Escher’s development as an artist, the movements, people and locations that influenced him and give insights into his personal life. There are cabinets containing photographic albums recording his homes, holidays, family and friends together with memorabilia, personal documents and the tools he used to carve out and paint his works.

The early work derives from his time in Italy and Spain. He drew inspiration from the Alhambra whose geometric lines and interwoven patterns encouraged his first tessellation print Eight Heads and sowed the seeds of later development. Here we also see less familiar works and subjects: the White Cat woodcut, a townscape and the influence of cubism and art nouveau in his portrait of Pieter Jan Zutphen, but always with the lines there is unusual perspective and attention detail which was increased with his move to lithography in 1929.

With the rise of fascism Escher moved first to Switzerland and then to the Netherlands. Now he begins to make the impossible look real but still with reference to figurative forms as in Day and Night, with a flock of white birds flying into the night, while a flock of blackbirds fly into the light in the opposite direction. Fireworks and the Phosphorescent Sea are here along with works using colour. Stretching across the back wall is the imposing Metamorphosis II, his largest print at nearly four meters long accompanied by preparatory studies.

With his background in architecture Escher was next drawn to creating paradoxes and illusions representing the flat and two-dimensional as though it were three-dimensional. The works here on rank among his most popular and famous. Waterfall in contrary movement, Ascending and Descending with its never-ending staircase and the plausible looking yet impossibleBelvedere. In the exit corridor we walk along the comparative timeline of Escher’s life and downstairs there is a free video and gallery with works by other artists in a similar vein.

The visitors book contains pages of tributes to The Amazing World of MC Escher. “Loved it all fantastic.” “The one exhibition that's a must see in 2015.” “Very comprehensive.” “Mind boggling.” “A display of very significant art.” “Well curated with excellent explanations.” “Turned our brains to spaghetti hoops.” What more can I can I say?

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

MC Escher remains one of the great conundrums of modern art: an artist whose work is part of the fabric of 20th-century visual culture yet whose name means little to a British audience. This exhibition offers the opportunity to rediscover a giant of 20th-century art, a fabulously imaginative artist of unparalleled technical ability, whose work is familiar from reproductions, but is seldom seen in the flesh. The exhibition includes nearly 100 prints and drawings stretching across Escher’s whole career. Shown in collaboration with the Gemeentemuseum and Het Paleis, The Hague.

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