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Knots with Albert Flocon

In March 1965, Escher met the French artist and professor Albert Flocon, lecturer at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Flocon mainly created copper engravings and, like Escher, he was fascinated by the mystery of perspective. Especially curvilinear perspective, a form that Escher too used several times (consider in this regard Hand with reflecting sphere, Balcony, Three Spheres II, Drop (Dewdrop) and Self Portrait in Spherical Mirror). In 1967, together with his colleague André Barre, he published a book about this special perspective: La Perspective curviligne de l’espace visuel à l’image construite. In 1987 it was published in the US under the title Curvilinear Perspective: From Visual Space to the Constructed Image.

The meeting proved to be of great importance to Escher. Flocon became an ambassador for his work, a liaison. Just like Charles Alldredge did in the United States. The professor personally mediated on the sale of prints and an Escher exhibition that was to be organised in Paris. In October 1965 Flocon published a 10-page article about Escher in the important monthly Jardin des Arts: ‘À la frontière de l’art graphique et des mathematiques: Maurits Cornelis Escher’. In it he combined information about Escher’s life with analyses of the prints. He also used quotations from a conversation with the artist*. The article provides a good description of Escher’s place in the art world. Previous Dutch art critics never went much further than pointing out that Escher’s work was (too) cerebral. Flocon put a positive spin on this. He placed Escher in the line of ‘thinking artists’, which runs like a thread through art history:

‘Il rejoint une lignée ancienne d’artistes, qui étaient en même temps des penseurs nets, comme Piero della Francesca, Vinci, Dürer, Jamnitzer, Bosse-Desargues, le père Nicéron et tant d’autres, pour lesquels l’art de voir et de donner á voir s’accompagnait de la science des moyens à mettre en œuvre.’

From the article in Jardin des Arts

Albert Flocon and André Barre, La Perspective curviligne, Flammarion, Éditeur, Paris, 1968
Albert Flocon, Topographies. Lucien Scheler, Paris 1961

The meeting also encouraged him to return to work after a period of many hospital visits and multiple operations. It was a print by Flocon in his Topographics that would be the direct inspiration for a new woodcut. In this splendid edition Escher found an engraving of a number of knots that intrigued him.
Letter to his friend Gerd Arntz in which he mentions his encounter with his 'frere spirituel' Albert Flocon
The knot in Topographies

As a tribute, Escher wanted to develop one of the figures into a print. This prove more taxing in terms of time and energy than he expected. He wrote to George about it**:

‘It is so surprisingly time-consuming; the hours fly by, the idea in my head only crystallises after a series of almost countless failures. There is actually nothing that interests me at the moment, except that idea, which, once, must become a visually perceptible image. Strictly speaking, I have no “right” to design anything new. I have just finished my overdue reprints, but it is with the insistence (inspiration, if you will, but that is such an overused word) that if you wait too long and crave, the idea fades. My contact with Albert Flocon in Paris caused a spark to ignite, a light that continued to burn for weeks. But on a bad day I noticed that it was a little less clear in my mind, and then I thought: it is now or never, and I threw the whole mess of printing ink and Japanese paper into a corner. It is just a KNOT that I want to make, the classic, topological, triple-bent knot, “Le Nœud”. Is it not surprising that a common knot, which seems so simple, turns out to be so difficult when you start drawing it?’

Just a knot, as he said himself, but Escher kept on struggling with finding an interesting visual representation of it. The woodcut Knots shows the fruits of this ‘learning process’. From top right (a massive knot, like a pretzel) through top left (a cruciform variant of it) to the end result below (a hollow rectangular profile with gear-like notches).
It was an effort with which he was not satisfied, as he confided to George***:

‘My knot is at last fully finished and a big disappointment. What a waste of time.’

Knots are a powerful symbol for infinity and timelessness. Despite the ‘failure’ of his print, he wasn’t finished with the subject. ‘I still feel bound to it’, he said at a lecture. More than a year later he created a new knot with his woodcut Path of Life III. A moderate success according to him, but still no masterpiece.


[*] [**] [***] Wim Hazeu, M.C. Escher, Een biografie, Meulenhoff, 1998, page 455-458

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