M.C. Escher, Birds, 1926
Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) was an influential Dutch graphic artist, whose explorations of complex and impossible spaces and tessellations have become indelible fixtures of contemporary culture. Although his work has largely been relegated to pop-culture cliche and math classes, Escher demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the brain, visual stimuli, spatial relations, the role of images in culture, and both modernism and postmodernism. His most famous works are Drawing Hands (1948), depictions of impossible architecture like Relativity (1953), and tessellations of birds and fish like Sky and Water I (1938). Birds is a rather different piece; it is not actually a tessellation, nor does it contain any impossible spaces or surreal use of gravity. Instead, this is a fairly straightforward depiction of several birds in flight. Nevertheless, it gestures toward the work that would follow, with the repeated patterns on the central bird's plumage and the relationship of the smaller birds to the large one, each fitting into the negative space that the central bird creates. Although perhaps not as innovative as Escher's famous style, this is a beautiful and fascinating work of art that suggests a link between his extremely modern works and the graphic art of traditional cultures.