This is Plane Filling II, a lithograph from July 1957 without an underlying system. The shapes extend out in all directions. It is perhaps the weirdest print in Escher’s oeuvre.
No other work features this many different animals, people, satyrs, and other bizarre creatures: 21 black ones and 19 white ones. Six fish, four birds, seven humanoids, a meditating buddha, two devils, a walrus, an elephant, a monkey, a frog, a camel, a kangaroo, a lobster, a kind of platypus, a dragon, a unicorn, a snake, several dogs, a braying donkey, a turtle, and a snail. And a guitar.
Although Escher has said that he never hides messages or metaphors in his works, the fact that he uses his monogram and the date in the snail is probably no coincidence. At the time, he was reading the biology book Animals without Backbones, featuring jellyfishes, corals, flatworms, squids, starfishes, spiders, grasshoppers and other invertebrates*. First published in 1938, it was critically acclaimed, and was the first biology textbook ever reviewed by Time. The book brought him the inspiration for this remarkable print.
In a lecture that Escher was to give in Canada in 1964 (it was cancelled due to health problems), he would have said of the Plane Filling I and II:
‘Yet each of them has the form of something, be this either a living being or an object, which the viewer “recognises”. Putting such a tessellation together is a tiring activity and at the same time a thoughtless game. It tires the draftsman, as if he were not the ringleader himself, but as though, stripped of his will, is allowing his creatures the freedom to determine their own shape and character.’