A poster of “Three Worlds” next to David Steel’s desk in high school spurred his appreciation for Dutch artist M.C. Escher that has lasted decades.
That appreciation is on display this week in “The Worlds of M.C. Escher: Nature, Science and Imagination,” which Steel curated for the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.
The collection, an artistic menagerie on loan from various collectors, includes Escher classics such as “Drawing Hands,” as well as lesser-known prints and lithographs.
Steel said asking curators to select their favorite pieces is akin to asking a parent to choose a favorite child, but the universal appeal of his exhibit has been very gratifying.
“The great thing about Escher is that he will appeal to viewers from grandkids to grandparents,” Steel said. “On Friday, we had our 100,000th visitor. It was a grandmother, a mother and a kid.”
Popular demand led the museum to extend the exhibit until Jan. 24, but Steel suggested those who have yet to stop by should do so before the final throngs of fans attend this weekend.
Mark McCombs, a senior lecturer in the UNC Department of Mathematics, teaches a first-year seminar called “Mathematics, Art and the Human Experience,” which examines the mathematical aspects of Escher’s tessellations and artistic optical illusions. He said he plans to take his class to view the exhibit.
“One of the aspects of his work that’s interesting in a mathematical setting is how, with his use of symmetry, he’s able to create images that are almost like puzzles,” McCombs said. “Some of his pieces look almost impossible. It’s like visual paradox. You see things that because of his use of perspective leave you wondering ‘How could that possibly be?’”
Steel said Escher’s perfectionist tendencies and ability to utilize sketches from across his career in later prints set the artist apart. But Steel said he particularly appreciates that Escher rewards those who pay close attention.
“Escher wants you to look at his prints hard and think about them. The longer you spend with them and the more closely you look at them — he rewards that kind of attention,” Steel said.
Junior mathematics and physics major Josh Horowitz visited the exhibit over break with his family. He said seeing the pieces in person allowed him an appreciation even for familiar prints he had seen before in pictures.
“Seeing the Escher pieces at the exhibit, as opposed to in pictures, lets you see a lot more detail,” Horowitz said.
“It also makes you feel much closer to the artist knowing the artist touched these pieces and worked on them themselves.”
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