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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Escher: Land of Confusion

"Dude, take a deep sigh and look at the landscape of the picture below. Don’t panic. You're not alone and the world isn't empty. Slowly release the smoke."

"Take another sigh and now look at the landscape of the piece below. Feeling better already? See what I mean, brother? Nice birds too."

This is psychedelic art of a troubled mind. Escher's confusing lino's, woodcuts, wood engravings and lithographs with impossible perspectives and parallel spaces are the result of a visual confusion in his youth. It may have inspired Genesis for their song Land of Confusion.

The monotonous grasslands bordering the Wadden Sea have a specific simplicity. A straight horizon. Green below, blue above. White spots in the green are either sheep or swans. White spots in the blue are either clouds or seagulls. The green is intersected with ditches. Always one small dam crossing the ditch, with a wooden fence on it. Here and there in the green a bright orange triangle. These are the old farmsteads with their orange, incomprehensible high roofs. The farmsteads are stylized and symmetrical too. In the nock of the roof a white ûleboerd 'owl board' with two stylized, symmetrical -again- swans. And at sea, again a smooth flat surface. The only anomaly in this stylized lndscape is the shining black horse; the Friesian. With its unreasonable high curly neck, long males and tail. Its baroque appearance and black color sharply contrasts the landscape. As if the breeders had exactly thát contrasting effect in mind.

This landscape was the birthplace of Maurits Cornelis (nicknamed Mauk) Escher. Born in the city of Leeuwarden in the year AD 1898. At the age of five he left the endless grasslands behind. Small, sick Mauk moved first to the town of Arnhem. Later, to the cities of Delft and Haarlem. It all got him out of balance and school became a big disappointment for his parents. Even drawing lessons were mediocre. His grade a 7 out of 10. But processing his traumatic visual confusion has produced Escher's psychedelic work which is famous worldwide to date.

At first the chic art connaisseurs did not recognize Escher's work as being art. Yes we know, why should we listen to the money-making owners of art galleries? The hippies in San Francisco CA however did recognize the value of his work and Escher's psychedelic work became very popular in the scene. After that Escher’s reputation as an artist took off. Although he kept complaining those hippies in Frisco reproduced his work without permission and without paying him for it. Yeah, he stayed a man of the North.

Escher traveled through Europe. Got inspired in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. He literally gave new perspectives for the classic Dutch culture still soaked in the smell of butter, smoked eel and old cheese. Or even worse, young cheese. Combining the stylized landscape patterns of his youth together with defining-the-laws-of-physics-and-mathematics. Only think of the geometric tile patterns. At last, after centuries the Dutch have been freed from the Delft Blue tiles and ceramics. Finally!

So, when you want to hike the Frisia Coast Trail and, just like those dudes at the start of this post, you have difficulties with wide spaces or even suffer from the anxiety disorder agoraphobia, study the work of grown-up Mauk closely. It is far outta space, it heals, and it cures. His work, although not en route the trail, can be found in the museum Escher in the Palace. A wonderful exhibition in a wonderful old palace building at a wonderful spot in the city of The Hague. No stimulant needed!


Note 1 - This short film including interview with M C Escher, subtitled in English.

Note 2 - Here a link for some fitting music.

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