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Tainted love

Just imagine. You’re an artist, creating your own work with passion and dedication. You slave away, struggling to demonstrate your ideas. You long, pine for recognition. You get it. Finally, en masse. And then… Much of the appreciation comes from a public you have nothing in common with. That you don’t understand anything about. A public that loves and appreciates your work for very different reasons to what you had intended. In this edition in the series about Escher and music, we are focusing on tainted love affair between Escher and the hippies: the 1960s.

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a distinctive man, with an aristocratic appearance: pleated trousers, clean cut cloak, hair in a straight parting and equally straight-lined principles. Playful and humorous, yes, and with an unlikely imagination, but at the same time with a methodical precision and all order and regularity.

There is something fiercely revolutionary in the air

It goes without saying that this man didn’t have a lot to do with the hippie generation when it emerged. Escher didn’t regard himself as part of the established order, but associating with this countermovement wasn’t his style either. However, he was very well informed about what was happening in the world. As he wrote in a letter to his son in 1964:

‘…then we will laugh together about the Beatles and other ridiculous circumstances in the strange world around us. The Beatles (and many other Beatle-like phenomenon recently) are disturbing, however. There’s something fiercely revolutionary in the air. Perhaps your children still have rather a lot to encounter, in which case it’s good that they are experiencing that in that vast, sparsely populated country of Canada, because ‘mark my words,’ this is just the beginning of a world that’s liberating itself from old taboos.’



Bad Trips

One taboo the hippies liberated themselves from was the copyright to Escher’s prints. Unintentionally, Escher’s prints suited the hallucinogenic effect of LSD perfectly, which many hippies used. Escher’s prints were embraced by the hippie generation and numerous reprints were published with fluorescent colours and fitting new names. The print Dream became Bad trip and Three spheres became Peace on earth. Escher wasn’t too disturbed about the reprints as he could have been. When an American friend advised him to call in a lawyer, he wrote:

‘Why should I be displeased if youngsters are happy with awfully coloured red things on their walls? I feel more or less flattered and I am glad that they can afford them.’

Mott The Hoople (1969), Mott The Hoople
L The P (1969), Scaffold

Cosmic, not comical

The popularity of Escher’s work meant that his prints were also used for album covers, much to his dismay. Well-known covers include those for the albums of Mott the Hoople, Scaffold and The Mandrake Memorial.

Prints were used to illustrate genres from psychedelic rock to classic and ‘cosmical music,’ (whatever that may be). This often happened without Escher’s consent. Whilst he was accommodating to students who reprinted his work, Escher could be unrelenting against musicians.

I am not Maurits to him

The anecdote with Mick Jagger is a famous one. In 1969 the frontman of The Rolling Stones wrote an informal letter to Escher asking him for a collaboration on an album cover. ‘Dear Maurits,’ is how Jagger begins his admiration of Escher’s work. ‘I am most eager to reproduce one of your works on the cover-sleeve.’ Too bad, Escher must have thought, but that’s no way to write to someone you don’t know. And he didn’t want to associate himself with music that didn’t appeal to him. He was a lover of classical music and not much else. He snappily put Jagger in his place. He didn’t have any time for extra work and

‘By the way, please tell Mr. Jagger I am not Maurits to him, but Very sincerely M.C. Escher.’

Jagger could be world famous, musically Escher stuck to his principles. Jagger’s love for Escher’s work was not returned.

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