Escher’s Magic Spell

By Teller

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity – Witty, touching, and illuminating.  As we listen to a choice selection of Escher’s words, exuberantly delivered by Stephen Fry, we see – in stills, clips, and animation – how Escher’s ingenious notions and preoccupations become works of art. 

This is interwoven with a biography illustrated with period stills, film clips, and interviews with family and musician Graham Nash (a fan).  Escher says he thinks of himself more as a mathematician and logician than an artist.  He bemoans the difficulty of drawing, but the effort he puts in to remedy his “lack of talent” makes his draftsmanship (for example, the hand that’s drawing itself, drawing itself, drawing itself) exquisite. 

As a child he is obsessed with linking disparate items by Lewis-Carrollian logic. He turns that logic into images, interlocking figures that transform as you follow them across the screen. 

When Hitler comes to power, Escher draws a circle of white, master-race, heil-saluting figures whose backs transform into hunched underclass monsters which shake hands with the masters. 

For Escher, nothing is just one thing.  In landscapes, rooted trees seem to march in a procession, and the reflections in puddles on the forest floor show the sky through treetops                                             

                                                  Reptiles. by M.C Escher, 1943 lithograph

 Later in his architectural scenes (he originally aspired to study architecture), three planes intersect, inhabited by people side by side on contradictory stairs, and unaware of one another’s worlds. His marriage is like that as well, with his wife drifting in and out of mental illness. Likewise, the audience that embraces his art most, the hippies, love drugs, sex, self-indulgence, and Day-Glo culture – all things anathema to Escher’s austere intellectual concepts. 

                                             Relativity by M.C Escher, 1953 lithograph

When Mick Jagger asks Escher to provide record album art, he is baffled and refuses.  When an American magazine interviews him, Escher expects payment for his words, but the payoff comes in what happens after the career-making article is published.  

                                                           Drawing hands, 1948 lithograph

The film is a labor of love and lands with a simplicity that belies the sophisticated design behind it.  The animations are uniformly gorgeous, in perfect synch with Escher’s style, and make their points with ease.  The film’s plot lines interlock like the labyrinth of an Escher print. And driving it all are those Escher words, filled with longing, growing dark (as someone wrote of Bach) with an excess of light.

M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity is now playing in select cinemas and available on Virtual Cinema benefiting the theaters and filmmaker. Visit the film’s website to find out where to see it.

The Official M.C. Escher Collection website features dozens of images.

(All images © 2014 The Escher Company- The Netherlands)

TellerTeller is an American magician, illusionist, actor, comedian, painter, writer, director and half of the comedy magic duo Penn & Teller, along with Penn Jillette. Teller usually does not speak during performances.

He directed the duo’s acclaimed documentary Tim’s Vermeer (2013, via Amazon) as well as a version of Macbeth (via Amazon) that successfully toured the East Coast, and the off-Broadway thriller Play Dead.  His book House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott is out-of-print and hard to find while “When I’m Dead All This Will Be Yours!: Joe Teller – A Portrait by His Kid and the book written with Penn are readily available. He previously wrote The Long-Lost Houdini Movie Escapes Extinction” and reviewed Wild Tales for EDF.

After the pandemic they look forward to being back at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas performing their very special brand of magic. He can be seen weekly on The CW’s Penn & Teller Fool Us. 


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