Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hyperbolic frolic

I had the tremendous pleasure today to attend an exhibit of works by M. C. Escher in my hometown. It was an incredible treat to see so many familiar images, a few of which have adorned my walls, in one place. There were a number of surprises, too: lovingly crafted scenes of Italian buildings and staircases, and a series of early woodcuts with biblical subjects. One of these even had the reversed initials so common to an artist's early ink prints.

I was most struck by the technical prowess that went into his prints. Take "Circle Limit IV", which not only illustrates the peculiar geometry of the hyperbolic plane, but does so with a thought-provoking two-color woodcut. Few in history had the exacting vision required to create interlocking patterns with such precision, while at the same time communicating so much personality. The exhibit includes two "segment proofs", prints of one third of the work. Taken out of the context of its two triplet siblings, the details that Escher chose to omit as he moves toward infinity are brought into sharper relief, making his genius all the more apparent.

Also consider the hauntingly evocative "Rippled Surface", the studies for which include perspective drawings of concentric red and black circles to indicate the local maxima and minima of the wave as it propagates across the water.

Rhythm of Illusion remains at the San Jose Museum of Art through Sunday, April 22, 2007. If you are anywhere near the south bay before then, I urge you to attend.

2 comments:

Ryan said...

So San Jose is your hometown now? That's awfully harsh to old Bike City...

On an entirely different note, can you fill me in on what exactly "op art" is? That which the exhibit website explains Escher was a "recognized...predecessor" of?

P. Sternberg said...

I've filed taxes from the 95123 zip code twice; I consider myself moved. However, Northern California is my real home base, since Davis, Berkeley, and San Jose have all had a sizable share of my time in recent years.

Interestingly enough, in the next gallery over from the Escher exhibit is a temporary presentation entitled Op Art Revisited. Mary would characterize it as "migraine-inducing", but a more refined description is provided by this wikipedia article.