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Maurits Escher

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated and in awe of the wonderous, mind-bending artwork of Maurits Escher. In my childhood, at Christmas time, calendar hunting was an adventure to see if I could find one featuring Escher’s drawings and designs. I could then have a new puzzle to ponder or new perspective to analyse and contemplate every month.

I admired his precision, discipline and meticulous attention to detail. His artwork was exact and exacting. A passing glance would never do. You had to do more than just look, you had to delve deep to really appreciate the myriad of intricacies, contradictions and impossibilities which he presented.


‘Day and Night’ 1938

One of the key aspects of Escher’s work which attracted me the most, is the theme of transformation. Central to my abstract photography, I too love the challenge of taking something in a familiar state and crafting it into another, offering a completely different interpretation and point of view.

In ‘Day and Night’, for example, the way Escher morphs the fields into birds is gradual and subtle. But even more compelling is how he turns the negative space between the white birds into their black counterparts flying in the opposite direction. For me, there’s a contradictory oscillation between the apparent simplicity of the artwork and the underlying complexity of design and execution.

We see the same technique used in ‘The Encounter’.

‘The Encounter’ 1944

This piece is almost like a macabre dance where the two protagonists are destined to repeat their handshake over and over as they perpetually circle around each other in varying degrees of rendition.

Challenging Perceptions and Perspectives

Offering a different, and hopefully thought-provoking view of the world is one of my goals as an abstract photographer. I enjoy subverting viewers’ expectations and perceptions by taking the ‘known’ and recognisable, and presenting the ‘unknown’ and mysterious, where viewers must make a leap of faith and move beyond their comfort zone. This is another reason why I have such an enduring affinity for, and fascination with Escher’s work.

‘Other World’ (Another World) 1947

When I was younger, these types of pictures used to blow my mind! They still do. Who wouldn’t harbour, at least the tiniest sliver of intrigue when viewing something like this? For a kick off, what’s up and what’s down? What exactly are we looking at? How is this ‘space’ orientated and defined? Are multiple spaces existing simultaneously? How do we perceive this? Everything is thrown into question. What shouldn’t be possible, suddenly is.

I’m reminded of Scotty’s immortalised line on Star Trek – “I cannae change the laws of physics!”

He may not have been able to – but Escher could.

‘Relativity’ 1953

‘Relativity’ is another example where our perceptions are turned on their head and we’re left exclaiming “how can that be?”

Out of curiosity (and just for fun), I decided to do a little experiment and re-orientated this picture several ways to see if it would withstand observation and maintain its integrity from multiple points of view.

No matter which way you look at it, Escher’s staircase conundrum plays out equally well. So aptly titled, our point of reference in this fantastical setting is all ‘relative’.

Inviting the Impossible

Speaking of staircase conundrums…

‘Ascending and Descending’ 1960

‘Ascending and Descending’ has captured my imagination for decades. Logically I know this shouldn’t be possible, yet my eyes are apparently telling me otherwise.

Upon reflection, I think this is what’s at the heart of my enjoyment of Escher’s works.

The paradox.

The contradiction.

The challenge to the viewer to make you think.

The invitation to question what you see.

“Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling?”
Maurits Escher

About the Author

Jane Trotter is an abstract photographer living in Dunedin, New Zealand. Reimagining everyday objects found around the home, Jane transforms them into colourful and dramatic pieces of contemporary art.

Jane Trotter