The Man Who Stretched Reality

Structures confirm the way it is.

Perhaps that’s why we find demolition so cataclysmic. When steeplejacks were taking down those huge chimneys from the industrial north of England they would pull huge crowds. And then the structures painted by LS Lowry and still standing in the lifetime of these hordes, would no-longer be there.

This huge event, and then nothingness.

Nothingness, as the crowds show, has its attractions.

But it, like rigid structure – it’s an extreme. Is there something which exists between the smug rigidity of the structures we see around us, and the nothingness when it’s not there?

Well; there’s the Necker cube.

Draw a cube with lines. And though before you sits a 2D representation of a cube, you could choose to look at it in different ways. How does each vertex connect? How do the lines overlap? You could look at it like this:

Image from

Image from

Or this:

Pic via Wikipedia

Pic via Wikipedia

Worth a second look?

Mauk thought so.

He was not much good at school; he kept flunking tests and getting poor grades, right through to college in Haarlem.

So at college, Mauk Escher switched from architecture to decorative arts.

In 1922 he went on a tour through Italy and Spain and met The Alhambra. The building wooed him and won him, and he spent the rest of his life loving the pattern and planes he saw during that momentous visit.

So he lived with his wife and son in Rome until Mussolini’s regime tried dressing his son in the fascist youth uniform and then he fled, in stages, arriving back in the Netherlands in 1941.

Which was the best thing for him; for the dull cloudy weather of the Netherlands fuelled the pictures inside his mind.

Mauk may have flunked maths, but he was a genius at pattern.  He adored taking a structure and questioning everything you ever thought you knew about it. Good morning, his paintings seem to say: and how would  sir or madam like to think about space this morning?

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Well, you might well reply, it all depends on how you look at it.

Reality, ladies and gentlemen, is not out there.  It can change with the way you think.

It is not satisfactory, simply to gawp at life as it is and take it for granted. And this applies, not just to the terminally unimaginative, but to the highly enquiring mind of a scientist who will believe only that which he perceives as proven. He sits within a cube of his own creation, believing its structural tenets to be rigid and immoveable.

More things in Heaven and Earth? You have no idea.

Everything you see, everything you learn, can, and should, be questioned. Because even what we perceive as rigid proof may have a hidden perspective our minds are not yet ready to glimpse.

Because structure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Written in response to Side View’s weekend theme, Structure, which you can find here


44 thoughts on “The Man Who Stretched Reality

  1. it’s a fascinating area, perception, isn’t it? Flat surface/2D representation of solid/3D matter. Those with monocular vision have to deal with problems that the majority with stereoscopic vision don’t have. And when it comes to moral dilemmas, where perception of a different kind is needed, too many of us seem to suffer from mental monocular vision. A stimulating post, Kate.

  2. His pictures fascinte me. Then I haveto lie flat on the floor with my eyes closed and hope I don’t fall through some gap I hadn’t seen previously, or float down to the ceiling.

  3. God does not play dice with the universe. Albert Einstein.
    God does play dice with the universe. Stephen Hawking.
    Reality, ladies and gentlemen, is not out there. It can change with the way you think. Kate Shrewsday.

    Methinks, the game of dice wasn’t invented by man for no reason. {grins cheekily}

      1. I do indeed, Ruth, thank you 🙂 And thank you Col: I shall spend the rest of the day returning to a stream of Quantum research I have left neglected…

      2. Ah, quantum theory: if I had another life, Col, I’d spend it studying just that. The very thought of our perception being able to influence what happens. Intoxicating 🙂

  4. With dark particles and the whole works, Science believes as usual that it has found just about all the answers. As usual, it will no doubt turn out that the knowledge is still infinitesimally small.

  5. Fantastic, Kate. I’ve always enjoyed his work, and play, with light and structure.

    At the moment we’re watching the building of the Roman Coliseum (on DVD) ~ equally awe inspiring as a structure. Even one built today.

  6. Theorems and academia don’t always embrace creativity, do they Kate? Mauk Escher was a great tinkerer with an acute sense of awareness of himself an how he fit in the world surrounding him, an it goes to manipulating perspective to which he was a master. In art school, for a perspective drawing course, I used him as inspiration when I applied the tools of ‘perspective’ to bring a man working at a desk in an office across the street into the studio, so close one thought he could touched. Nothing short magical. It is where and when I learned what you ended with.

    And you summed it perfectly…..’Everything you see, everything you learn, can, and should, be questioned. Because even what we perceive as rigid proof may have a hidden perspective our minds are not yet ready to glimpse…..Because structure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.’ In away it is one’s rigid structure and narrow perspective that often prevents a wider view of things…..a very Zen notion.

    Artistically speaking, one can have a PHd in Art HIstory, but fail as an artist. Knowing does not constitute awareness. A great take, with much inspiration for me.

    Enjoyed the stack demo on many levels. Here’s one about man vs structure. It has a few twists in the plot right to the end. I think the gentleman a western Canada farmer. Fearless or bullheaded ?

    1. Alas, embedding hs been disabled, Hudson… ut your own perspective study sounds wonderful. Now THAT I would love to see. Thank you. Brilliant comment, as usual 🙂

  7. I love the work of Escher, Kate, as does my boss, an interior designer (please don’t equate that with an interior decorator). Earlier this year, she designed a tile pattern we call the Escher. It’s very cool.

    1. I read that early on Escher came across the Wallpaper group, that collection of mathematical studies on a 2Dplane. I fiind the idea fascinating abut mind bending. It takes the creatives like your boss to make that stuff live.

  8. Fascinating as always Kate. Escher was my inspiration for all my freehand perspective drawings at design school. So you can imagine how much this resonates with me.

  9. Amazing, isn’t it?
    I used to sit and draw cubes upon cubes; back in the day when one talked on telephones with long cords and I needed to doodle. The longer the conversation (and cord) the more cubes, until the imploded and exploded. Now, why did I just think of that? Oh, your wondrous post. Thanks, Kate.

    1. I know someone like you, Penny: I met her last year, teaching. She would attend intently to what was going on, all the time creating these incredible 2D representations. By the end of the meeting her page would be full of them! I would forget to attend, and just gaze at her patterns. Such a talent, buried in a little English primary school.

  10. This is so interesting, Kate. Once again, I know the artist, but you’ve given me such wonderful context leading me to want to further explore his exceptional work. You’ve also hit upon one of my favorite topics. I revel in the belief that we are entirely too sure of ourselves! We have such confidence that what we know now is all there is. I’m forever reminding friends that we need to consider there are other perspectives and to tread very lightly in conversation when we get too bombastic. I think Escher will be a good reminder to me!

  11. Bistable illusions to boggle the mind. In a year past I had an Escher page-a-day calendar on my desk – a good brain kickstart to the day.

  12. M. C. Escher’s work is very distinctive. This Dutch graphic artist is an excellent example if someone whose forte was not taking tests but in creating wonderful designs. I wish we would retreat from the over-testing that seems to go here in the U.S. and let the creatives (and others) explore education in a more fulfilling way. Sorry, Kate, I’m on a “reduce tests” rant now as our schools reopen after the summer break.

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