Wednesday, 11 March 2015

No beginning and no end

Still Life and Street - a 1937 woodcut
It's the third day of what desperate Ottawans are calling "spring". Filthy piles of snow are melting into filthy puddles, and the buses and sidewalks are suddenly full of people pushing walkers, or in motorized wheelchairs. You don't see much of the elderly or disabled in the winter months; this isn't the ideal city for them.

I thought about this as I followed the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter down Sussex Drive toward the National Gallery. Last March, I struggled to keep up with them and had to stop for rests every time my knees gave out. Today, I gave thanks for being able to walk and stand. Evidently, I've been given a respite, but I'm grimly aware that last year was probably a preview of my own eventual decrepitude. Rather like winter, which always comes back, and is forecast to close in again this weekend.

Best to rejoice in what is. Among the exhibits currently at the gallery is a retrospective of the mind-bending images of MC Escher. It's a small exhibit by the Gallery's standards, only taking up three large showrooms, but with Escher, that's probably ample enough brainwork for one afternoon.

For those -- like me -- who are only familiar with posters of creatures seeming to crawl out of two-dimensional designs, or stairs that keep flipping over, it's something else to see Escher's early work: woodcut scenes from Italy created out of delicate crosshatching or hundreds of vertical strokes. In the centre of the first hall is a display table showing a sketch of a scene, the block with the woodcut for the same scene, and finally the print made from the woodcut. I found myself rather preferring the block with an image that wasn't a negative, exactly, but the city-scape at night which seemed to be emitting its own light.

Above is one of the prints that made me stop, go back and gaze. It's an early example of Escher playing tricks with a view out the window -- with no window. The street simply grows out of the desk and the books blend into the walls of the buildings. It's subtler than his more famous stuff. Go take a good look.

Below is a work from twenty years later which is more recognizable as Escher. I saw the devils before I found the angels. Is it a judgment?

Circle Limit IV - a 1960 woodcut
When I got home, I went up into the bedroom and wondered at an unfamiliar but not unpleasant odour. I realized the Resident Fan Boy had opened the window for the first time in five months.

He'll have closed it by the weekend.

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