Exactly 50 years ago, on 20 April 1968, Dutch weekly magazine Vrij Nederland published a long interview with M.C. Escher by the legendary journalist Bibeb (Elisabeth Lampe-Soutberg). At the time Escher was not really looking forward to it. Because he found the contents to negative, he didn’t really come around to reading the magazine thoroughly*.
‘I relented, though I do not see the good of it. We have gone through an initial three-hour seance, but she is not satisfied in the least. The day after tomorrow she will return for another whole afternoon. It is nice to see her work, though—we talk while she keeps a large notebook on her lap in which she is constantly writing, barely looking at it while she is doing so. What will come of it I do not know, but we are in this boat together so I will bravely keep rowing. She is an entertaining and rather nice woman. She gets along with mother too and vice versa. (I informed her upfront about our unusual circumstances, which the article will not mention.) I will get to read her handiwork, to make alterations if needed, before it gets printed.’
After the publication, Escher received many responses.
‘To date, Jan has been the only one to somewhat reluctantly and critically give me some advice. The rest of the many comments are all positive, some are even enthusiastic. It appears to be a “striking” portrait of me **.’
The interview contains some notable quotes which say a lot about the man and his work:
‘I could sell an incomprehensible amount of my work. I could be a millionaire. If I had assistants in my studio, they would have to print woodcuts all day long to meet the demand. That is not something I would consider. What use would the money be to me? I have three sons who are doing just fine. More money would only have a negative effect on them.’
‘I keep walking in riddles. Time and again young people come to me and say: you create opart. I have no idea what opart is. I have been making this work for 30 years.’
‘Sometimes I have the feeling: is this okay? My work is not serious enough. Doing what I do whilst this miserable Vietnam affair plays out on the television […]. Life is miserable, I know. I am not lying awake at night for fun. I sleep badly. When I am lying awake, I read The Hobbit. Those descriptions are as real as if he himself lived there. I live completely in that forest with those spiders. That is reality too: no reality.’
‘I do not feel so fraternal. I still have about three or four friends from my school in Arnhem. You choose the friends who they suit you. I did not let go of them. Some are dead.’
‘In the past I did not know what time was, I just went on and on. That was what my life was about. Little more than that. Now, when I am busy doing something, fear overcomes me. Every moment I think maybe this is the last one. Between two prints I find suicide a pleasant thought. I would like to start a club of suicidal people. One must be aged 17 to join and it must be done under the guidance of a medical practitioner. There should not be too many. Every now and then one of them would say: it has to happen. Then he will be killed.’
‘I have to be alone with my work. I cannot have anyone passing my window. That is why I have that garden. I do not like noise and motion. As Willink talked about these portraits, I can imagine how he feels. Psychologically speaking, I cannot create a portrait. Having someone sit for me would be far too irritating for me. I have only done a portrait of myself in the mirror on a small number of occasions. People confuse me easily.’
‘I only take an interest in what I do myself. I feel very flattered when scientists like my work, but the judgement of some artist has no effect on me. It is not a trifle, to be a man of science. Well, they are also trapped in their own world. In my own way, I am also trapped. As an artist you have to be limited, you have to keep your doors closed and go your own way. When I am working on something, I think that what I am making is the most beautiful in the world. If something turns out well, I will gaze upon it admiringly at night. An infatuation that goes far beyond being in love with a person. The next day your eyes will open again. I find that what I create is the most beautiful as well as the ugliest.’
You can read the full article (in Dutch) om Vrij Nederland’s website.
[*] [**] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 479