Escher: the Bowling Ball

Escher's House Of Stairs
Escher's House Of Stairs

There are a few images seen early in life that I can call formative; an early Crumb panel glimpsed in an issue of Newsweek, a dark painting of a brutish bartender answering an old-fashioned wall telephone, framed and mounted for unknown reasons on my grandmother’s kitchen wall, which frightened me for years until I examined it closely and found it to be a cartoon by Jack Davis- and a drawing in dizzying curvilinear perspective of a group of bizarre buglike creatures climbing up and down unsupported staircases and curling themselves into wheels to roll down long corridors, which I saw in some Time/Life science book when I was about ten years old. It was only years later that I learned the name of the artist, M.C. Escher, when I saw the drawing again in a collection of his work. I made many attempts to draw pictures in the style of that image, but I could never manage to get the perspective right.

Later still I ran across a book called The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher by Bruno Ernst, which has a lengthy section explaining how Escher had used cylindrical perspective, a method in which an image is metaphorically traced on a cylindrical picture window which is then laid flat. This enabled Escher to take in a wider view than is possible in a conventional perspective projected on a flat picture plane, and at the end of the chapter the author speculates that Escher could have taken in a wider view still by projecting his image on a sphere.

That was enough of a challenge for me, and when I began painting on spheres one of the first subjects I tackled was extending Escher’s image 360° in all directions, which required me to complete the side walls whlch Escher had left out of frame (I wasn’t quite up to the task of inventing the light sources which Escher had neglected to provide). My canvas was a bowling ball, which provides a satisfyingly even surface but requires a very firm stand to support its weight. You can view an immersive panorama which was constructed for me by Tom Lechner here (Shockwave required). Unfortunately the view only spins horizontally, which is a limitation of the software, and there seems to be no way to turn the window sideways.

Collectors of my work will be pleased to note that the original is for sale for the asking price of $5000, which may seem spendy until you consider the years of work that went into it. I recall sketching details out while listening to the Clinton Impeachment on the radio; after that it lay unfinished for years until a break in my schedule last year gave me time to finish it. Potential buyers are cautioned not to attempt to bowl with the piece; the holes have been filled in.

If I were going to adapt another Escher image, I think it would be “Flatworms”.

House Of Stairs after M.C. Escher, 2009
House Of Stairs after M.C. Escher, 2008