Day and Night, c. 1938, by Maurits Cornelis Escher (low res. version used here under Fair Use.)

Day and Night by M. C. Escher hangs at the M. C. Escher Museum in The Hague, Netherlands. It was made from two wood blocks and black ink. At the bottom center, two roads meet at a 90-degree angle. To the left, we see fields, farm buildings and a windmill, and a canal from the river. There is a town to the north of the canal with a bridge over the river, leading to another group of roads, fields and canals. This is the day side. To the right, we see the same things, only on this side it is night. These parts of the print are symmetrical.

Look inside the Vee of the roads at the first white field. It is not a square, so we know this part is not symmetrical. It isn’t a rectangle either. Two sides are straight lines, but the other two aren’t, and the shape is longer to the left than the right. From there we can watch the fields change shape as they move up towards the top of the print. The second row of gray fields start to look like the heads of birds, and as we move up, the shapes morph into actual birds, white birds flying to the right and black birds flying to the left.  . . .

In the center of the print, two canals seem poised to meet, but that confluence isn’t shown because it is behind the birds. Above those two canals the print seems to return to symmetry.

The center of the print seems to rise up at an angle to the earth, as if it were on an axis set at about 45 degrees to the plane of the earth in the print. It gives a strong sense of lift, an updraft, as you would expect to experience with birds.

My mother gave me a copy of this print when I was in my teens. It hung over my the table that served as a desk when I was in high school. Things that we have for a long time, things that we use and look at intentionally, become part of the vocabulary of the mind. They aren’t just objects, they are part of the way we comprehend the universe. This is one of those objects for me. Bach’s Two and Three Part Inventions are another. They are linked through a book, Godel, Escher and Bach, An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter.

Some of Escher’s works are simply about confusing dimensions, like Up and Down Some are tessellations, groups of odd shapes that can be laid side to side and which cover an infinite plane with no gaps. Sun and Moon is a good example. Others are more or less representational, like Castrovalva. Some illustrate mathematical principles, like this recursive print, Drawing Hands, or Moebius Strip II (Ants).

Day and Night is a lyrical combination of these elements. The birds soar from the tiled plane and fly into action or into dreams.