Book Review – M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work

Ratings

  • Writing: 4
  • Illustrations: 5
  • Math Level: 1
  • References: 2
  • Overall: 5

(For a detailed explanation of the rating system, see the end of the review.)

Review

Introduction

Welcome to the first book review on Geometric Arts!  This is the first of what I intend to be a long, ongoing series of book reviews. A huge part of my education and inspiration for creating geometric art has come from the books I have acquired over the years – as my groaning book shelves will attest. :-)  I figure, what better way to spread the joy than to review my favorite books over time so that you all can pick up your own copies of the ones that interest you?

M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work is a cornerstone of my collection.  M.C. Escher has always been one of my primary inspirations in the geometric art world, and of the several books about him that I own, this one is by far the most comprehensive.  It is a beautiful, large, “coffee table” style book, with over 600 illustrations, including 36 color plates throughout the book.

Walkthrough

The subtitle of the book (“His Life and Complete Graphic Work”) describes the content very well. The book starts off with several chapters (pp. 6 – 134) dedicated to describing Escher’s life in some detail, followed by two short chapters (pp. 135 – 174) offering some insight and analysis of his work from a (light) mathematical perspective. After that (pp. 175 – 328) the rest of the book is simply a big, glorious catalogue of his complete work, followed at the end by notes, bibliography, index, etc.

The initial chapters covering Escher’s life are surprisingly detailed and engaging, and give a very clear picture of Escher the man. Even here there are many photographs, sketches, and prints scattered throughout the text.  While the biographical detail may not be of interest to some, it is at least worth skimming this section because there are some interesting discussions of where he found his inspiration (e.g. his trips to the Alahambra), certain aspects of his craft and technique, and so on.

Inevitably, though, you will end up simply paging through the catalog and admiring his work. Everything is here, from his earliest pastoral prints to his most famous geometric prints. It is fascinating to see how certain images from his early career work their way into the later prints, and to see the sudden shift around 1937 when he suddenly stopped making prints of exterior scenes and focusing on his inner world of plane tesselations and alternate geometries.

Highlights

For me the real highlight is, as I said, the catalog itself. However, there are also several jewels in the biographical chapters. There are several reproductions of Escher’s preliminary sketches, which offer insight into how he constructed some of his works. Very often, he would create a rather elaborate grid first as a framework into which he would then draw his tiling, growing and shrinking to fit the distorted grid. It is also fascinating to read about a trip he took e.g. to Italy, see the little village or tower that he sketched or painted there, and recognize it as an element that reappears as an ornamental detail in one of his later works.

Conclusion

This book is worth owning if only to have the most complete available catalog of Escher’s works.  If you have a deeper interest in Escher the man or wish to understand more about his process as an artist, then the biographical and analytical chapters are priceless. While M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work is not cheap book (as of this writing, it costs $75 new on Amazon), it is a must-have for any true Escher fan.

Feedback

Please let me know what you think about this review – the rating scales, the format, the content, anything!  I want to make sure these reviews are as useful and informative as possible, and only you can help me do that! Thanks. :-)

Rating Format

To keep things consistent, I have decided to give each book I review a rating from 1-5 stars on each of several scales, pertaining to their usefulness and desirability for the library of someone interested in geometric art. Here are the rating scales I will be using:

  • Clarity of Writing: Is it easy to understand? [1 = Poorly written, 5 = Excellently written]
  • Quality of Illustrations: Is it beautiful to look at? [1 = Few/boring/monochrome illustrations, 5 = Many/beautiful/color illustrations]
  • Math Level: Is a lot of prior math knowledge needed? [1 = Basic/high school level, 5 = Very Advanced/Graduate level]
  • Depth of References: Are there references to other interesting sources? [1 = None, 5 = Many]
  • Overall Rating: How would I rate the book overall? [1 = Skip It, 5 = Must Have]

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About Phil Webster

Phil is the creator of GeometricArts.com. You can reach him on the Contact page.

2 Responses to Book Review – M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work

  1. avatar
    Barak August 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

    I remember thumbing through this book in your dorm room. The chronological catalog, as you said, is fascinating.

    • avatar
      Phil Webster August 19, 2011 at 8:46 am #

      Hey Barak, nice to hear from you! Yes, I’ve owned this book a LONG time.