Dutch artist M.C Escher first printed his lithograph Reptiles in 1943. It’s a tesselated pattern inspired by Moorish art, in particular the floor and wall mosaics of the Alhambra. It reflects the artist’s fascination with the “regular division of the plane.” The reptiles are whimsical little creatures that crawl out of a two-dimensional drawing and walk around over a group of objects on a desk, eventually reentering the drawing. There’s a moment of unmistakable triumph when the one that manages to climb to the top of a dodecahedron blows smoke out of its nostrils.
The genius of Escher was of course his merging of mathematics and art, but the strange worlds he created also feel like visual poetry. They have shape and heft and one suspects an inner meaning but it’s a little elusive, and therefore all the more compelling.
Looking at an Escher print stimulates and eases the mind at once, the way great poetry can. I could spend hours looking at these reptiles, and at all the tiny furnishings of this desktop. The zoology book, the cacti, the jar and glass, the little metal bucket-like container, the open book with its unreadable print. It is a perfect world, and the very fact that I may never know fully what it means makes me want to look closely at it, over and over.
And isn’t that exactly how we want a good work of fiction to affect us, to draw us back again and again so we gain new perspectives every single time?