How Maurits Escher tested harmony with algebra

The Mathematical Art Of M.C. Escher

A film about unique Dutch graphics comes out to audiences in the USA

One of the most enigmatic and virtuoso artists of the 20th century has become the hero of a new documentary. Two American distribution companies Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber begin virtual and theatrical screening of a full-length film in the United States on February 5 «M.C. Escher: a journey into infinity» (M.C. Escher: Journey To Infinity). The film will be shown in New York, Los Angeles and about fifty other cities in America.

Film director – Robin Lutz, who reveals to the viewer the world of Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972). Lutz carried out this project in collaboration with Marijnke de Jong, co-writer of the script..

Movie poster. Fragment

This film portrait was painted in part by the artist himself. The film abundantly quotes lines from his diary, fragments of his lectures and private correspondence. They are voiced by British actor Stephen Fry. Woodcuts, lithographs and other graphic works of the master speak for themselves. The artist’s two sons, 92-year-old George and 80-year-old Ian, recall their father on camera. Famed rock musician Graham Nash talks about the huge impression that Escher’s work made on him when he first saw his work.

Nash – just one example. It would not be an exaggeration to say that after Rembrandt and Van Gogh Escher – the most respected and popular Dutch artist in the world. His style is instantly recognizable. His thoughts about humanity and about art are still relevant today. His works, made after the Second World War, reflect a paradoxical world in which one can see logic and immediately realize its impossibility, impracticability. In the film, with the help of three-dimensional animation, important ideas and discoveries of Escher and the process of his work on graphic sheets are visualized.

M.K.Escher. &# 171; Band&# 187;

Escher’s influence, his aesthetics and philosophy, his concept «impossible reality» on the culture of the 20th century turned out to be multifaceted and long-lasting, manifesting itself in cinema, literature, poster art, design and much more, including, for example, tattoos.

The filmmakers received support from the Escher Foundation, which owns the rights to his work. Another partner was the Escher Museum in The Hague.

Marinke de Jong studied art history and worked for 13 years as the curator of the graphics office of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. She took part in the preparation and organization of film events, where she met Robin Lutz. The patron of their film about Escher was Sir Roger Penrose, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Oxford..

Correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America» talked about the Zoom service with Robin Lutz and Marinke de Jong.

Oleg Sulkin: For a long time, Escher was considered an elite artist, understandable only to a select few, people who are sophisticated in art. But your movie is destroying that idea. You show how popular and in demand it is today among intellectuals and consumers of mass culture.

Marinke de Jong: It seems to me that Escher himself really wanted to be understood by different people. He did not like abstract art and conceptualism in principle, although he himself was fascinated by the concept of infinity and sought to visualize it.

OS: You actively use the words of the artist himself, interspersing them with the testimonies of his two sons. How the structure of the film developed?

Robin Lutz: In various places we found Escher’s diaries and letters. We made copies of them and began to study them. It took almost a year. In a letter that Escher sent to an American collector in 1969, we found this phrase: «I’m afraid there is only one person in the world who could make a really good film about my schedule., – it’s me». Marinke and I looked at each other. Yes, it is, we decided, let him be the director, not literally, of course, but symbolically, through his words. In addition, we abandoned the idea of ​​attracting experts, «talking heads». They preferred to arrange an interview with the artist’s sons, which worked, and this is not always the case. The eldest son lived in Canada, the younger – in the south of France. We asked them to come to Paris, where we talked with them for a whole week..

Robin Lutz and Marinke de Jong

M.J .: It was important for us to place Escher’s quotes in a historical context, check his statements, and explain the incomprehensible. In this regard, communication with the sons was very valuable. How valuable communication with Graham Nash was, who explained why it was in the 60s and 70s that Escher was so popular in pop culture.

OS: Asher began, like many others, imitating the old masters. He copied paintings and graphics of the Renaissance, and Moorish ornaments of Spanish churches. And when, in your opinion, he became Escher, whom the whole world knows today?

M.J .: I think during the Second World War. But even before the war, when he lived in Italy for a long time, his passion for portraying as «bird’s-eye» (the horizon is significantly higher than the base of the picture), and the image «from the frog’s point of view» (the horizon is low). He began experimenting with different perspectives, visual charades and paradoxes, depicting «metamorphosis», transition from plane to space and vice versa. This is how his unique style was formed. «impossible reality».

R.L .: When he lived in Italy, he was very inspired by the views of small towns and the surrounding nature. It was already Escher, but not quite the one who later became famous. During the war, he could no longer travel and was inspired by what was ripening inside his soul..

OS: Are his political views known? How did he perceive fascism? On one of the sites I read that Benito Mussolini was among the guests during the baptism of his child..

R.L .: No, it’s not like that. He spoke this as a joke..

M.J .: Escher was not at all sympathetic to Mussolini and hated the Nazis. But he basically avoided politics. Largely because of the rejection of fascism, he left Italy. Living in Holland during the Nazi occupation, he did not participate in collective exhibitions, did not enter the artistic community and was very angry when he learned that a couple of his graphic sheets were shown at one of the exhibitions without his permission..

How Maurits Escher tested harmony with algebra

OS: A few words about his private life. Is it true that his wife Yetta was from Russia?

R.L .: Yes, she lived in Russia, her father and mother – Swiss and Italian, my father had a business in Russia. Yetta said that she loved Russia very much. By the way, in this they are very similar to Escher, who also loved Russia and Russian literature, although, as far as we know, he never came there himself. While traveling to Ravello in a small hotel, he met Jetta, and they soon got married. While working on the film, we went there. Very nice picturesque place, and that hotel is in place.

OS: You give the viewer a rare opportunity to look into the artist’s laboratory, to see how, step by step, he creates his amazing creations. What was most interesting for you in this process?

R.L .: First of all, Escher worked for a very long time, months, on his graphic sheets. He was not a mathematician by profession, but he was an intuitive mathematician. Many years after his death, two professors at Leiden University analyzed his lithograph «Art Gallery» and confirmed the mathematical correctness of the spatial solutions. But Escher is not a scientist, he knew nothing of this, he drew everything intuitively. If this is not mysticism, then what?

M.J .: He was doing tremendous preparatory work. In the film, we show Escher’s folders and albums with drawings of figures, various objects, objects, creatures, sketches of landscapes, architectural structures. He brought himself to complete exhaustion by searching for an artistic solution to a particular topic..

R.L .: At the same time, Escher retained an amazing childlike spontaneity in the perception of nature. She admired him all his life. He painted a tree, a bush, a leaf, a drop of rain on a leaf. During walks in the forest, I always carried a magnifying glass in my pocket, often knelt down and carefully examined a piece of nature.

OS: How did you get Stephen Fry as a narrator??

R.L .: It wasn’t hard. Stephen said that he really likes Asher. He carefully studied all the materials that we sent him. So when he came to the studio to speak the lyrics, it only took a few hours. And most importantly, his voice is full of emotional tension, which matches the mood of the film..

OS: Escher’s love for music, especially for Bach, makes one think about the deep influence of music on his work.

M.J .: Important properties bring Escher’s aesthetics and classical music closer together. Let’s say, the repetition of the main musical motive, its variability. He was very fond of Bach and Mozart. He was quite critical of modern music, although people who knew him noticed that he somehow whistled «Yellow submarine» (1966 Beatles song).

O.S.: It is also known that he refused to provide his work for the cover of the next album of The Rolling Stones.

M.J .: Most likely, he had nothing against it, perhaps he did not know anything about them. It’s just that the master was very busy, he was overwhelmed with orders, and the deadlines were always tight. After all, it was at the end of his life that he became truly famous

How Maurits Escher tested harmony with algebra

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