Winner of the 2021 Triptastic award for psychedelic visuals, Robin Lutz’s study of the life and times of renowned artist M.C. Escher is a tempting bit of eye-candy. Most will be familiar with the striking look of the work of the Dutch graphic artist; Lutz’s daring film fills in the biographical context, but also has a refreshing angle on his art, using animations and other ingenious tricks to make this more than the cinematic equivalent of a coffee table book.
Escher’s work is art, no doubt, but it’s also pop art, with fans including Mick Jagger, who gets short shrift when he approaches the artist for an original design for an album cover. These celebrity anecdotes make for fun viewing, but where Lutz’s film strikes gold is in evoking the artists’ vision itself. With Stephen Fry reading aloud from Escher’s own words, animations help Escher’s work literally springs to life for the camera to make his famous ‘tessellation motifs’ boggle the eye and the mind. ‘Recognisability is so important to me, I couldn’t live without it’ Escher notes, and that recognisability has led to a stoner-culture obsession that’s put Escher’s work on multiple dorm-room walls. But the artist himself doesn’t dwell on elaborate meanings, and his descriptions of his own work are admirably concise; Lutz makes imaginative use of his camera to suggest the real life vistas and views that inspired his work.
Escher’s own story follows many of the twists and turns expected of a major 20th century artist; a troubled marriage, a family to protect, an escape from fascism, a re-discovery via pop-culture. Graham Nash from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young bookends the narrative with his own personal experience, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Lutz also comes up with the goods in terms of detail; hearing Escher’s son eulogise the ‘smell of ink’ or tracing the history of his Curl-up creature, surely the ancestor of BB-8 in The Force Awakens or Tuk Tuk in Reya and the Last Dragon. Some cheeky editorial off-cuts run over the credits to ensure the viewer ends this particular journey with a smile.
Escher’s influence is so widespread, it’s hard to know where to start in appreciating his work, but Journey to Infinity should be the first port of call for future generations of explorers. This is a meticulous, fascinating film about a great artist whose work lends itself to cinema. Escher may have complained about ‘the artlessness of nature’ but his mathematical compositions reflect our world through a unique mirror of his own natural and inimitable consciousness.
Escher: Journey to Infinity is being released in UK cinemas by Munro Film on August 13. Thanks to Munro Film for advanced access.