The work of all great masters is revered, copied and parodied, but no other artist has had his or her work feature so prolifically in tattoos as Escher. The Dutch grandmaster of graphic art is also the king of body art.
I never had an opportunity to check, of course, but I suspect Escher himself didn’t have any tattoos. It would be very much out of character, Maurits Cornelis Escher with a great big ship tattooed on his chest. Or ‘I love woodcuts’, but I just can’t picture it. Escher’s work is extremely popular among tattoo fans, though.
Optimal optical illusion
It’s often the case that reproductions of an artist’s work detract from the artistic merit of the original. Countless reprints on biscuit tins, ties and trays can sap the life out of the real thing. In the case of Escher, however, tattoos constitute a type of reproduction that has the capacity to add an extra dimension to his work. The master of the optical illusion is revered by reproducing his works on the curves and contours of the human body. Such as the man who had his clean-shaven head tattooed with Escher’s Hand with reflecting sphere. The curves of his head lend the piece an additional degree of optical illusion!
It also imbues authorship with a wonderful mise en abyme quality. Who is the spiritual father of this human artwork? Escher, who originally devised it? The tattooist, who applied it to the human body with such proficiency? Or the exceptionally bald gentleman who conceived of it as a good idea and had it inked onto the back of his head?
‘Human artwork?’, I hear you ask. ‘Tattoos aren’t art, are they?’ We’ve come a long way from the three dots you apply yourself using a hot needle and a cork, the tradable tribal tattoos and the names of exes you’d rather forget but will constantly be reminded of. Fortunately. It’s a question of degrees, of course, but these days there are tattoos designed and executed that wouldn’t look out of place in a museum. But God forbid we should do that. We can’t – mustn’t – lock people up in a museum, but the artistry is undeniable.
Hence this tribute to tattoos of Escher’s work from recent years: