Recurring Reptiles 

Reptiles - MC Escher (1943)

Reptiles - 2012

One fine day, I eavesdropped on a conversation among a group of reptiles…

"MAN. This step is so tall…" The leader of the pack huffed, using his muscular arms to push himself up the thick platform.

"Hey I can’t get out! My legs are still stuck. How did you even get out…"  grumbled the one behind the leader, struggling to tug himself out of the paper.

"Oh my gosh hey guys, my head’s finally out" Said the other, as he popped his head out of the paper, using his tiny arms to push himself up.

"I’m…unf…going…unfff…into the paper…" The one behind him stuttered as he squeezed into the page full of his identical selves stuck in a cramped yet compact pattern.

The only female reptile stuck frozen on top of a bucket of matches. She wondered if she jumped would she break any of her fragile bones…

"Move it!!" The male behind her snorted, smoke coming out from his nostrils.

"Oh please, no hurry… Someone tell me why are we crawling in circles?" The one behind him snapped, reluctantly clutching onto the steep triangular ramp.

"Hey hey wait for me!!" The smallest one cried, tagging behind the pack as he cautiously placed his claws on the ramp.

And so they went around in circles. Who knows why MC Escher wanted to subject these poor reptiles to such a never ending recurring state of life.

Moral of the story?

"What goes around comes around"…..Literally.


Moving on to Escher’s piece of work.

This is Reptiles by MC Escher, a lithograph print done in 1943. This print depicts a line of reptiles, crawling out from a tessellation of themselves to the real world. As they journey in a circle, they crawl over ordinary household items, including a book, a set square, a bottle and a glass etc. This was Escher’s idea of depicting the reincarnation of reptiles: coming to life, crawling over desk, and reentering the drawing.

This artwork reflects the interest of the artist in combining both mathematics and art. This is seen from the avid use of geometry, and the overall balanced composition of the print. Escher’s great interest in Mathematics is also reflected through the depiction of the set square, dodecahedron, tessellations and books. The details of the lithograph print reflect the precision and high skill in printmaking of Escher. The work depicts a strong sense of tonal value and contrast, with the large variation of black and white. The reptiles’ motion seems never-ending as they go through the cycle of slipping out of the work of tessellations crawling over surmountable items and then slipping back into the tessellations again.

Although the print is monochromatic, it brings about an extraordinary sense of humour and excitement, as the viewer is drawn to every element in the print, moving through the print in a smooth anti-clockwise direction. The print also carries a feeling of life as the reptiles seem to be moving in the print. If one observes the print, he will realise that the reptiles are involved in different actions simultaneously hence making this whole print interesting. One of the reptiles is struggling to get up the thick book, while the other is blowing smoke out of its nostrils. The interaction and cohesion between these reptiles and the non-living objects makes this print compact and lively. After all, this print was based on Escher’s principle which was to make his subject matter be in action, in nature and not just pure mirror symmetry.

It is evident that the print is influenced by surrealism. This is because the print shows the juxtaposition between reptiles coming to life from a piece of paper with tessellations of identical reptiles, suggesting the evolution of 2D to 3D, and non-living to living. The tension and harmony between the subject matter brings forth the idea of surrealism where subject matter from reality are placed together and juxtaposed in an impossible manner which can only occur in one’s subconscious mind. Escher’s work reflects just that: an imaginative work having the ability to bend reality and requiring the viewer to see these images from new perspectives.

Relativity - MC Escher (1953)

This was done 10 years later, another lithograph print by MC Escher. As compared to Reptiles, the use of perspectives is much more evident here, where MC Escher goes deeper into the idea of viewing a piece of work from a variety of perspectives, by twisting architectural principles to an impossible extent. This print depicts anonymous figures walking through a tower with doors and stairs which seem to be linked together, yet are joined in a physically impossible manner. As compared to Reptiles, MC Escher has gone deeper into exploring the principles behind mathematics and a greater emphasis on details and precision. His background in architecture is highly evident here as can be seen from the well-constructed architectural work and mathematically calculated perspectives. Once again, he directs eye movement by the specific arrangement of the steps, shadows and the direction of motion of the figures. The print by him once again comes to life as the figures in the print look as though they are moving up and down the stairs, disappearing into the doors and coming back out. Though seemingly messy with numerous details, the jumble of perspectives falls neatly into a compact and balanced composition. As opposing to Reptiles, tessellations are omitted in this print.

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