M.C. Escher’s “Relativity”
In one of Escher’s most beloved, most copied, and most parodied images, a series of staircases crisscross in a labyrinth-like interior. At first, the staircases seem to occupy a believable illusionistic space, but upon closer inspection viewers realize that they meet each other at impossible angles. In fact, the shape defined by the three main staircases is a famous “impossible shape” called a Penrose triangle.
What makes this print so mesmerizing is how Escher takes that geometric curiosity as a starting point to create not only one impossible shape but a completely impossible world with multiple simultaneous orientations of gravity. He has not only imaged what the inside of such an unusual building would look like, but has also provided glimpses of an idyllic outside world through the archways at the top of each stairway. Every way is up in this charming world, but so too every way is down as is always the case with Escher, “reality” changes completely, depending on how you look at it.
Relativity is on display as part of the exhibition M.C. Escher: Other Worlds, open at the BYU Museum of Art through May 19, 2018.