Today we would like to wish a very happy birthday to the master of paradox himself, M.C. Escher. The Dutch artist behind never-ending staircases and gravity-defying landscapes would turn 114 years old if he were magically still alive this June 17th.
Maurits Cornelis Escher was born in Leeuwarden in the northern part of the Netherlands in 1898, and spent most of childhood in perpetual uncomfort due to a reoccurring skin rash. His grades in primary school were lackluster, yet he found solace in drawing and carpentry. After surviving secondary school, he went on to study architecture and decorative arts, and decided to travel throughout Europe before settling down.
It was during this period that he became enchanted with the intricate architectural legacy of the Moors and with the Italian countryside; this was a time when he fell in love with his future-wife. The two of them settled in Rome in the 1930s, unfortunately just in time to experience the early development of Italian fascism. So he, his wife, and their sons moved first to Switzerland, then to Belgium, and finally back to the Netherlands, the cold and wet location where most of his greatest works were produced.
Escher was not a formal mathematician by any means (he only had a high school education in the subject), but he was fascinated by the visual identity of mathematical concepts. Working mostly in lithographs and woodcuts, Escher explored the relationships between shape and space, interlocking figures in multi-dimensional planes and eternally spiraling spaces. He developed a serious obsession with impossible objects like the Necker Cube and the Penrose Triangle, as well as with ordered arrangements and absolute symmetry. In "Relativity," one of Escher's most famous works, several identical, egg-headed characters are depicted roaming up and down endless staircases that seem to defy the laws of gravity.
His love for math was also a major inspiration behind his master tessellations, two-dimensional designs that showed repeated, geometric shapes with no gaps or spaces in between. He often incorporated aspects of nature into these tessellations, using birds, fish and lizards to create perfectly-balanced compositions.
Throughout his career, Escher created an outstanding amount of work while lecturing and furthering his understanding of mathematical concepts like topology and the Mobius Strip. In his later life, Escher moved to a retirement home for artists in the Netherlands, where he died in 1972 at the age of 73.
The legacy of M.C. Escher's "impossible" designs certainly lives on, as he remains a constant influence for members of the math and science community, as well as graphic designers and artists today -- not to mention LEGO enthusiasts. We have a particular soft spot for this Star Wars themed LEGO set that let's us imagine light saber fights in Escher's iconic "House of Stairs."