“Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.”
― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends
Abracadabra. Magic that tricks the eye. The rabbit-in-the-hat trick. The guess-which-card trick.
Look at this image, study it and what do you see?
Can you see Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II?
My husband and I were in Amsterdam when we discovered that there was magic a half an hour away at The Escher Museum in The Hague, home of the World Court and the capital of the Netherlands. One takes an easy thirty minute train ride from the Centraal Railway Station in Amsterdam. You stroll down a cobblestone street, lined with leafy trees and charming international embassies.
At the end of this passage is the Escher Museum, a former Royal Palace.
In my world of art, magic is often created through the manipulation of patterns and images. M.C. Escher was a master of magical optical illusions. I’d been somewhat aware of his magical drawings, but I had never experienced the excitement and genius of his artistic vision until I visited his collection.
Once inside, I felt a bit like Alice in a Wonderland created by a master who tricks the eye.
While there are no tea drinking rabbits, there are alligators crawling in and out of the picture plane.
Look carefully at the planning stages in the light pencil lines. See how he plans out the whole surface. Look at the way the alligators waddle into the drawing and out of it. Amazing.
Here was a stairway that went up, down, around and ultimately nowhere.
There were interactive displays. That’s me in the orb mimicking Escher’s drawing of himself.
On the top floor, we were magically transformed into Big Alice and the Mad Hatter.
These chandeliers were created by the Rotterdam artist, Hans van Bentem. He designed them especially for the museum. I think they’re knock out gorgeous and create a delightfully playful atmosphere.
I suddenly realized that I had a connection with Escher. I had previously created a series of paintings incorporating geometric patterns, gold leaf and flowers. I wanted them to be opulent, complex and to draw the viewer into the image. I would spend hours and hours working out the mathematics of the patterns so they would fit perfectly. I loved fooling the eye by creating sensuous, folded silken fabrics that surrounded the flowers giving the illusion of three dimensions.
Where did my love of pattern come from? Maybe it’s my Russian heritage. I remember one day, getting dressed for school in a checkered skirt and flowered blouse. I loved the way I looked but my mother was horrified. “You never wear checks and flowers together, never!” I was devastated. I thought I looked so stylish. While I followed my mothers rules as a young person, once I became an artist, all bets were off. I painted with pattern and passion, freely mixing diverse elements to my heart’s content. This was the real me.
I get it, Escher!