My Time With Escher     by Michael Halldorson

(reprinted with the kind permission of the author)


In 1969, by chance, I saw an image of a print in one of the Bay Area newspapers and that print was “Day and Night” by M. C. Escher. I knew instantly that this was my “Holy Grail” and Escher was my Guru. I was a graduate art student with a printmaking emphasis at California State University, Chico. Later I met and got to know another graduate printmaker by the name of David Trufant. He and I went to the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco to see an Escher exhibit. I had a chance to purchase an Escher print very reasonably, the very same print as in the paper, but I was going to Europe and needed all my money, so I did not. David, his wife Ellen and I went to Europe in June 1970. When we landed at Skipol International Airport, in Amsterdam, I went to the phone booth, looked up M. C. Escher’s name in the phone book, and called Mr. Escher. I could hardly believe it was that easy, he was listed in the phone book, because at that time the whole world wanted a piece of his time. I said “Mr. Escher my name is Michael Halldorson, I am a graduate printmaking student from Chico, California and I must see you.”


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His first words were “I just got rid of two American’s”. He said that I could have fifteen minutes, at three o’clock, on Friday afternoon. I was ecstatic. Then came Friday, I took the Euorail train from Amsterdam to Baarn (the town where Escher lived). I was in town hours early. Sat down in a quaint café with a cup of cappuccino and fantasized what it would be like meeting Escher. What would we have time to discuss in fifteen minutes? Could I possibly get all my questions in that amount of time? Would we just get started and then find it was time to go?
A taxi had me at Escher’s home fifteen minutes early. At precisely three PM I knocked on his door.

I was greeted at the door by Escher’s wife, Jetta, who had a friend over for tea, or so I assumed. I then saw a slight, white-haired man come into the room and he took me back to his studio. I was carrying my best print which was framed. The print was “Pollution I”. Escher looked at it and complimented me on it; although today, and even then, I thought he must have thought “how crude”. I had taken that print to Europe with the intent of presenting it to Escher as homage to him. How presumptuous of me to do so with no way of knowing if I could even get an audience with him.
We discussed printmaking and he asked if I would be interested in seeing his latest print and the wood blocks that he carved for it. You might be able to guess that my answer was an emphatic “yes”! The print was “Snakes” the last print he did.

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He showed me how he printed it and I was enthralled and amazed. When I mentioned that the print was perfect, he was quick to point to one line that did not meet up perfectly with its counterpart on the block. Each block was a third of a circle (120 degrees). They were printed by rotating the inked block 120 degrees to connect with the previously printed one. In the middle of the print was a pin hole which he used to rotate the blocks. There were three blocks, one for each color. That is nine separate printings. You would almost need a magnifying glass to see the “imperfection”. To Escher it was a glaring mistake.

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I asked Escher if I could give him my print. He had to decline my offer with the explanation that he was being relocated to what I understood was some kind of an artist’s residence. He further told me that he could not take all of his possessions, let alone my print. My print is shown laying in the foreground of one of the four photographs I took in his studio.
To this day I do not know why I only took four pictures and regret not having his wife take my picture with him, or more pictures around the studio, or even of his neighborhood. Memories diminish over time but it seems that his home was red brick on a tree-lined street with lots of shade. To me it was something out of Father Knows Best.


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When he stated that he was sorry that he could not accept my print, he also said that he was very sorry that he could not give me one of his prints as they were not his to give-they were “treasures-of-the-state”. Don’t quote me on that term, but that seems right. I said “Oh that’s okay”. Don’t get me wrong, I would have taken one in a heartbeat had he been able to give it to me. I said “Mr. Escher you are really big in the United States”. His reply was classic. He said “Yes I am, aren’t I”. No conceit, he was merely stating a fact.
At one point I extended an offer to stay in Holland and print his prints if he would just pay me minimum wage. He seemed amused and said that little old ladies from the United States would pay their own way and pay him to print his prints just for the opportunity. He told me that only he prints his prints.
The fifteen minutes allotted to me on that Friday afternoon turned into several hours as we discussed techniques, materials, philosophies, etc. I am forever grateful to Escher for his allowing me a portion of his precious time. I was so in awe that I did not think to have him autograph my sketchbook. Why I only took four photographs will forever haunt me.
                  
Back in Amsterdam, I went into a gallery and could have purchased “Day and Night” but once again, I only had my allotted monies for Europe.

Maurits Cornelius Escher passed away in 1972 less than two years after my visit. My favorite quote of his is “If only you knew what I have seen in the darkness of night”. I might be paraphrasing a bit.
Many people have commented that a number of my prints look like Escher’s. Where I am deeply flattered-my prints are not anything like Escher’s (wish they were) they merely reflect his influence.
I will always cherish my memories of “My Time with Escher!”


Haldorson coin

M.C. Escher
Memorial Coin

Original
Serigraph print by
Michael Halldorson

Signed and numbered edition of 35 examples

Year: 1972  This print is a silk-screen printed in two colors, black and silver.
    
    Michael Halldorson comments: “I had the great fortune to spend time with Escher in his studio shortly before his death and this is my homage to him. He is certainly worth more than two and one half guilders, but I just liked the looks of the numbers.”

    
It is printed on silk screen paper and there are very few in existence.
    
    (an original example of this print is in the Artists’ Market permanent collection)