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Reflections of fascination

A hand is shown in minute detail. The hand is holding a sphere. A spherical mirror, showing the reflection of an artist: Maurits Cornelis Escher, one of the world’s most renowned printmaker. His playful view on perspective, space and reality fascinates people around the world. And it’s M.C. Escher’s oeuvre that I have the privilege of curating. Two weeks ago, I was appointed as a curator at Escher in The Palace in the Hague. And I love it!

For years I’ve specialised in the work of the Dutch and Flemish masters from the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I’ve put together exhibitions, written catalogues, conducted research. Visited collections, made new plans and, as much as possible, kept working on graphic art.

Graphic art has always fascinated me. The playful interactions of lines on paper. The craftsmanship. The reproducibility. Ever since the start of printing, graphic art has been a way into the soul of the artist. The fleeting thought, the razor-sharp satire or the early experiment. Whereas with painting it requires a lot of time to build a single, unique copy with layer upon layer of paint, in graphic art one printing plate suffices to produce many copies. This allows the artist to reach a wider audience, to more easily disseminate or try out ideas – graphic art is the artist’s playground.

Likewise for Maurits Cornelis Escher. He used every possibility afforded by graphic techniques to play, to make reproductions, to experiment. This self-portrait in a spherical mirror is not only an illustration of the artist; it is a reflection of his spirit. A reflection of fascination. A self-portrait, by means of optical illusion. The illusion not just of a mirror, but of a spherical mirror, which allows to artist to fully exploit the opportunities to play with dimensions.

Escher’s face forms the centre point of the spherical mirror and the centre of the composition. Sharp lines delineate his face. A face with character. The face of an artist who worked on his oeuvre for years with neither recognition nor appreciation. An artist who in his youth was bad at maths, but is now known for inspiring mathematicians worldwide. An artist who didn’t necessarily strive for beauty, but who saw his work as the result of a quest. Escher created his own worlds, inspired by his amazement at and admiration for the laws and patterns that govern the space we inhabit. All through the medium of graphic art.

Yesterday, I was in the depot for the first time, to take a careful look at Escher’s work. Of course, as a curator you often find yourself in depots to look at an artist’s art works but even so… An intense, joyful nervousness always takes over me. Now it’s allowed. Now we’re going to look at it all close up.

Together with a bred-in-the-bone paper conservator, I’m looking at two boxes full of incredible works. Some are printed on wafer-thin paper; even with the correct tools you barely dare to pick them up. It’s like taking a butterfly in your hand, too beautiful and fragile to touch.

We see how the ink Escher used has rooted itself in the soft paper fibres. How some wooden blocks did not quite fit properly into a press. We see how Escher righted small irregularities and errors using tiny retouches, and how these retouches weren’t always so precise. Often even using a slightly different colour of ink, sometimes resulting in a pink-ish patch in block of red. I find it rather amusing, given that Escher makes such a precise impression.

In short, standing in a shaft of light in the depot on a gloomy October afternoon, Escher is closer than ever. I reflect on my love of graphic art and my fascination for this artist. I feel so enormously privileged. What a joy to be a curator at Escher in The Palace.

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