Thursday, May 27, 2004

M.C. Escher Bio

Maurits Cornelis Escher (Leeuwarden, June 17, 1898 – March 27, 1972 in Laren) was a Dutch artist most known for his woodcuts, lithographs and mezzotints, which tend to feature impossible constructions, explorations of infinity, and tessellations.


Maurits Cornelis, or Mauk as he was to be nicknamed, was born in Leeuwarden (Friesland), the Netherlands. He was the youngest son of civil engineer George Arnold Escher and his second wife, Sarah Gleichman. In 1903, the family moved to Arnhem where he took carpentry and piano lessons until the age of thirteen.

From 1912 until 1918, he attended secondary school; though he excelled at drawing, his grades were generally poor, and he had to repeat the second form. Later, from 1919, Escher attended the Haarlem School of Architecture and Decorative Arts; he briefly studied architecture, but then made a switch to decorative arts, studying under Samuel Jesserun de Mesquita, an artist whom he would remain in contact with until de Mesquita, his wife and son were murdered by the Nazis in early 1944. In 1922, Escher, having gained experience in drawing and particularly woodcutting, left the school.

Marriage and later life

Escher travelled to Italy regularly in the following years. It was in Italy, too, that he first met Jetta Umiker, the same woman who he married and made his vows to in 1924. The young couple settled down in Rome after they had been married and stayed there for just over ten years until 1935; when the political climate under Mussolini became unbearable, the family moved to Château-d'Oex, Switzerland. They stayed here for two years.

Escher, however, who had been very fond of and inspired by the landscape in Italy, was decidedly unhappy in Switzerland, so two years later, in 1937, the family moved again, this time to Ukkel, a small town near Brussels, Belgium. World War II forced them to move for the last time in January 1941, this time to Baarn, the Netherlands, where Escher lived until 1970.

Most of Escher's better-known pictures date from this period; the (sometimes) cloudy, cold, wet weather of the Netherlands allowed him to focus entirely on his works, and only in 1962, when he had to undergo surgery, was there a time when no new images were created.

Escher moved to the Rosa-Spier house in Laren in the northern Netherlands in 1970, a retirement home for artists where he could have a studio of his own. He died at the home on the 27th of March 1972, he was 73 years of age. Escher and Umiker had three sons.


Well known examples of his work include Drawing Hands, a work in which two hands are shown drawing each other, Sky and Water, in which plays on light and shadow convert fish in water into birds in the sky, and Ascending and Descending, in which lines of people ascend and descend stairs in an infinite loop, on a construction which is impossible to build and possible to draw only by taking advantage of quirks of perception and perspective.

Escher's work has a strong mathematical component, and many of the worlds which he drew are built around impossible objects such as the Necker cube and the Penrose triangle. Many of Escher's works employed repeated tilings called Tessellations. Escher's artwork is well-liked by scientists, especially mathematicians who enjoy his use of polyhedra and geometric distortions. For example, in Gravity, multi-colored turtles poke their heads out of a stellated dodecahedron.

One of his most notable works is the piece Metamorphosis III, which is wide enough to cover all the walls in a room, and then loop back onto itself. That was, of course, the intention.

Selected list of works
  • Trees, ink, (1920)
  • St. Bavo's, Haarlem, ink, (1920)
  • Flor de Pascua (The Easter Flower), woodcut/book illustrations, (1921)
  • Eight Heads, woodcut, (1922)
  • Dolphins (Dolphins in Phosphorescent Sea), woodcut, (1923)
  • Tower of Babel, woodcut, (1928)
  • Landscape at Abruzzi, scratch drawing, ink and chalk, (1929)
  • Street in Scanno, Abruzzi, lithograph, (1930)
  • Castrovalva, lithograph, (1930)
  • The Bridge, lithograph, (1930)
  • Palizzi, Calabria, woodcut, (1930)
  • Pentedattilo, Calabria, lithograph, (1930)
  • Atrani, Coast of Amalfi, lithograph, (1931)
  • Ravello and the Coast of Amalfi, lithograph, (1931)
  • Covered Alley in Atrani, Coast of Amalfi, wood engraving, (1931)
  • Still Life with Spherical Mirror, lithograph, (1934)
  • Hand with Reflecting Sphere (Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror), lithograph, (1935)
  • Inside St. Peter's, wood engraving, (1935)
  • Portrait of G.A. Escher, lithograph, (1935)
  • 'Hell' , lithograph, (1935) (copied from a painting by Hieronymus Bosch)
  • Regular Division of the Plane, series of drawings, (1936-196?)
  • Still Life and Street, woodcut, (1937)
  • Metamorphosis I, woodcut, (1937)
  • Day and Night, woodcut, (1938)
  • Cycle, lithograph, (1938)
  • Sky and Water I, woodcut, (1938)
  • Metamorphosis II, woodcut, (1939-1940)
  • Verbum (Earth, Sky and Water), lithograph, (1942)
  • Reptiles, lithograph, (1943)
  • Ant, lithograph, (1943)
  • Encounter, lithograph, (1944)
  • Doric Columns, wood engraving, (1945)
  • Three Spheres I, wood engraving, (1945)
  • Magic Mirror, lithograph, (1946)
  • Three Spheres II, lithograph, (1946)
  • Another World Mezzotint (Other World Gallery), mezzotint, (1946)
  • Another World (Other World), wood engraving and woodcut, (1947)
  • Crystal, mezzotint, (1947)
  • Up and Down, lithograph, (1947)
  • Drawing Hands, lithograph, (1948)
  • Dewdrop, mezzotint, (1948)
  • Stars, wood engraving, (1948)
  • Double Planetoid, wood engraving, (1949)
  • Order and Chaos (Contrast), lithograph, (1950)
  • Rippled Surface, woodcut and linoleum cut, (1950)
  • Curl-up, lithograph, (1951)
  • House of Stairs, lithograph, (1951)
  • House of Stairs II, lithograph, (1951)
  • Puddle, woodcut, (1952)
  • Gravitation, lithograph and watercolor, (1952)
  • Cubic Space Division, lithograph, (1952)
  • Relativity, lithograph, (1953)
  • Tetrahedral Planetoid, woodcut, (1954)
  • Compass Rose (Order and Chaos II), lithograph, (1955)
  • Convex and Concave, lithograph, (1955)
  • Three Worlds, lithograph, (1955)
  • Print Gallery, lithograph, (1956)
  • Belvedere, lithograph, (1958)
  • Sphere Spirals, woodcut, (1958)
  • Ascending and Descending, lithograph, (1960)
  • Waterfall, lithograph, (1961)
  • Möbius Strip II (Red Ants) woodcut, (1963)
  • Knot, pencil and crayon, (1966)
  • Metamorphosis III, woodcut, (1967-1968)
  • Snakes, woodcut, (1969)
References in popular culture
  • Matt Groening of The Simpsons made a reference to Escher in his Life in Hell comic. In Groening's parody of Escher's Relativity, cartoon rabbits fall down stairs at impossible angles. Groening would later reuse this joke in an episode of Futurama and as a couch gag on The Simpsons.
  • Similarly, a character on Drawn Together, an animated series on Comedy Central, was pushed down (and up, around, and back down) a flight of stairs modeled on Relativity.
  • In the Jim Henson movie Labyrinth Relativity is referenced again. The audience is again treated to an answer to the great question: what if somebody walks off the edge? The Escher estate was given acknowledgement in the credits for the film.
  • The bonus stages of the first Sonic the Hedgehog game, for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, feature an animated background of birds turning into fish, a reference to Sky and Water.
  • In Larry Niven's novel Protector, the protagonist builds a working model of Relativity using gravitational engineering.
  • The Psygnosis computer game Lemmings features a level called Tribute to M.C.Escher, although it doesn't sport Escheresque graphics. The Crystal Shard computer game SubTerra features a similarly named level, which does consist entirely of a repetitive pattern.
  • The early nineties rock group Chagall Guevara wrote a song called "Escher's World" which made many references to the impossible structures that can be found in Escher's work.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "M.C. Escher".
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Saturday, May 22, 2004

What are Optical illusions?

An optical illusion is any illusion that deceives the human visual system into perceiving

something that is not present or incorrectly perceiving what is present. There are physiological illusions and cognitive illusions.

Optical illusions can naturally happen by specific optical tricks that show particular assumptions in the human perceptual system.

An optical illusion. Square A is exactly the same shade of grey as square B.
An optical illusion. Square A is exactly the same shade of grey as square B.

A mirage is a natural illusion that is an optical phenomenon.

The variation in the apparent size of the Moon (smaller when overhead, larger when near the horizon) is another natural illusion; it is not an optical phenomenon, but rather a cognitive or perceptual illusion.

Developed illusions include phenomena such as the Necker cube and the Scintillating/Hermann grid. They could also be called discovered illusions. Understanding these phenomena is useful in order to understand the limitations of the human visual system.

Physiological illusions, such as the afterimages following bright lights or adapting stimuli of excessively longer alternating patterns (contingent perceptual aftereffect, CAE), are the effects on the eyes or brain of excessive stimulation of a specific type - brightness, tilt, colour, movement, and so on. The theory is that stimuli have individual dedicated neural paths in the visual outer wall of an organism for the early stages of visual processing; repetitive stimulation of only a few channels misleads the visual system.

Cognitive illusions are more interesting and well-known. Instead of demonstrating a physiological base they interact with different levels of perceptual processing, in-built assumptions or 'knowledge' are misdirected. Cognitive illusions are commonly divided into ambiguous illusions, distorting illusions, paradox illusions, or fiction illusions. They often exploit the predictive hypotheses of early visual processing. Stereograms are based on a cognitive visual illusion.

The . Black spots seem to appear and disappear very fast at the intersections.
The Scintillating grid illusion. Black spots seem to appear and disappear very fast at the intersections.

Ambiguous illusions are pictures or objects that offer significant changes in appearance. Perception will 'switch' between the alternates as they are considered in turn as available data does not confirm a single view. The Necker cube is a well known example, the motion parallax due to movement is being misinterpreted, even in the face of other sensory data.

Distorting illusions are the most common, these illusions offer distortions of size, length, or curvature. They were simple to discover and are easily repeatable. Many are physiological illusions, such as the Cafe wall illusion which exploits the early visual system encoding for edges. Other distortions, such as converging line illusions, are more difficult to place as physiological or cognitive as the depth-cue challenges they offer are not easily placed. All pictures that have perspective cues are in effect illusions. Visual judgements as to size are controlled by perspective or other depth-cues and can easily be wrongly set.

Paradox illusions offer objects that are paradoxical or impossible, such as the Penrose triangle or impossible staircases seen, for example, in the work of M. C. Escher. The triangle is an illusion dependent on a cognitive misunderstanding that adjacent edges must join. They occur as a byproduct of perceptual learning.

Simultaneous Contrast Illusion. The grey bar is the same shade throughout.
Simultaneous Contrast Illusion. The grey bar is the same shade throughout.

Fiction illusions are the perception of objects that are genuinely not there to all but a single observer, such as those induced by schizophrenia or hallucinogenic drugs.

Known illusions include:

Many artists have worked with optical illusions, some extensively, including M.C. Escher, Salvador Dalí, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Marcel Duchamp, Oscar Reutersvärd and anyone who has ever worked with perspective.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Optical illusion".
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