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The Minutiae of Escher

In 1923, at age 25, Escher wrote,“I want to find happiness in the tiniest of things—a minute moss plant, 2 centimeters across, on a rock—and I want to try to do what I’ve been wanting to do for so long, that is, to copy these infinitesimally small things as precisely as possible and to be aware of their size.”

When Escher wrote that in his journal he probably did not expect the rest of his life's work would keep circling back to that concept. Maybe it shows how our brains are strings that when struck by the right idea resonate for the rest of our life. We've seen this in other artists, musicians, filmmakers, and authors. Is Stephen King telling stories for us, or does he just like to scare himself? Was B.B. King writing songs for us, or just seeing where the Blues would take him? Whereas some critics might see a pigeon-holed artist, others might see someone dedicated to exploring a universe of their own making.

Many recognize the geometric architecture of Escher's worlds, but how often do they pay attention to the inhabitants? In 1935, Escher's son, George, brought home a grasshopper. Escher wrote, "In order to see it, I had to draw it." The result was a wood engraving of a highly ornate grasshopper with an Art Deco feel. The slanted background breaks the horizontal rule of still life compositions, implying movement; perfectly appropriate because a grasshopper is never still for very long.

Soon after, Escher had wood engravings of Scarabs, Dragonflies, and even a surreal Praying Mantis perched on a bishop's sarcophagus.

After his trip to the Alhambra in 1936, Escher dedicated the next 36 years to alchemizing boring old tiles into eye-catching tessellations and constructing geometric creations but he kept returning to that 1923 quote. It personally thrills me. At age 8, I was convinced I was going to be an entomologist, so to see ants as art subjects by such a famous artist just reinforced my belief that these tiny creatures were amazing. Escher must have thought so, they grace his artwork in three different decades and, like ants always are, on the move in every direction!

The real icing on the cake is re-reading that quote and then fast-forwarding to 1961. Here is one of Escher's most famous works.

Notice the quirky plants at the lower left. They aren't science fiction, they are exactly what Escher set out to do so many years earlier! Those strange plants are magnified lichens inspired by images from a science magazine. Here are real life Reindeer Lichens and Pixie Cup Lichens (images from

Escher really did enjoy the little things in life.

Make your inner 25-year-old happy and fulfill those lifelong wishes!

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