One might ask, "what is the story behind that picture?" Well, every work of art has a tale to tell, but some of M. C. Escher's prints are more literary than others. "Reptiles," "Day and Night," "Encounter" and many more can be read like novels, or so it seems to me. I'll take a shot at one of Escher's best-known works.

Escher Encounter Detail

In 'Encounter' there appears a misty wall in the background with a floor or shelf protruding from it. Look at the wall carefully and you'll see that it is actually the back of a room with dark walls on either side. These side walls come forward and support the floor.

Through the hole in the floor one can see the gray mist extending in all directions on the back wall. This wall is gray near the corners, but as we move closer to the center we see shapes, and these shapes become the forms of men. We see the men becoming clearer and clearer as they approach the center of the room and of the print, and from the gray mist we are eventually able to differentiate light and dark people.

In the center of the print the men become very clear, and the whites are so bright it seems they are illuminated from behind. Where does this light come from? Perhaps it is some magical or mystical force, because these illuminated figures are able to harness that wonderful third dimension, pull themselves free of the background, and move forward across the room, casting shadows created by that powerful background light. Some appear happier about this journey than others, but that seems to be the way dimensional people are!

Escher Encounter 260x260Finally in the foreground the two bands of travelers meet and join again, this time not by their outlines matching, but by the very human act of shaking hands. Perhaps here they can learn something from one another, for they apparently have very different constitutions as well as different shapes. They have been called optimists and pessimists, but remember: if they did not have different colors and attitudes, they never could have joined together in the first place!

Of course, some people may see other things. When the print was first exhibited some folks thought it a parody of the prime minister of Holland, who looked peculiarly like one of the darker men, but I prefer a more philosophical tale.

- Jeffrey Price, Norwalk, CT, April 25, 2002