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M.C. Escher: His Life and Complete Graphic Work (With a Fully Illustrated Catalogue) Hardcover – September 1, 1992
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The other key books on Escher are VISIONS OF SYMMETRY; THE MAGIC MIRROR OF M.C. ESCHER; and THE GRAPHIC WORK OF M.C. ESCHER.
The great thing about this book is not just the extensive and readable biography, but the complete (so they say) catalog of his graphic works. Even people very familiar with Escher's ouvre will be surprised by some of the entries here. They go back to work he did at ages 18 and 19, and show the devleopment of the Escher that has become so famous. It's just a little disappointing that the catalog is printed only in black and white, when so many of his works used color. The catalog reproductions are just that - a listing of his work, not a gallery, so the quarter-page size of most pieces is adequate for recognizing a piece, if not for appreciating it fully.
It is fascinating to see Escher's style develop though his (and the twentieth century's) twenties. Various influences early on suggest Beardsley (cat. 49, 67), Picasso (cat. 51, 58), or the pervasive Art Deco of his time (cat.34). Even then, some of Escher's later fascinations begin to emerge, including hands and reflective balls (cat. 88 and 80), symmetries and tilings (cat. 61, 65), and complex interactions of many figures in a repeating structure (cat. 90). The lesser-known parts of his work also start to emerge by the time he's 30, including delicate lithographs (cat. 129, 132). As much as I love his visual paradoxes and flirtation with the infinite, the lithos and mezzotints are the pieces that truly move me. "Snow" and "Blowball" (cat. 278 and 330) have an eloquent simplicity. "Eye" and "Drop" (cat. 344 and 356) demonstrate his classical sense and his perseverance with the demanding medium of mezzotint.
The text is also thorough and enjoyable - a good thing, since it takes up half of this heavy book, including its own set of illustrations. I admit that I have only skipped around this section, which starts by describing Escher's father. It's small wonder that his father was an engineer and that his son Arthur studied geology. Although an artist to the core, Escher had fruitful contact with mathematicians and crystallographers. He is one of very few artists that have successfully incorporated hard science into their artistic vision at such a visceral level, and the scientists appreciated that as much as anyone.
Although out of print, this book is available inexpensively on the used market. It's one of the best bargains around; if you've read this far, you'll probably find it well worth having.
M.C. Escher, as everyone knows, finds millions of new devotees, even copy-cats, with each new generation. His intriguing and fascinating work has influenced and inspired, and has been enjoyed and admired by, people worldwide, crossing cultures and age groups. There's no point in elaborating on (or belaboring) that issue.
What is at issue is this book. It is a complete compilation, and the catalogue is invaluable for the collector (or would-be collector, in my case). Most of the text may not be new to anyone who has studied Escher's works and life. Still, surprises and insights abounded. The binding is sturdy. But most importantly, the quality, clarity and high resolution of the illustrations are better than any others that I have seen. To me, it is the next best to having an original Escher hanging on your wall. I have only had this book for a week and I can barely tear myself away from it. Happy birthday to me.