M.C. Escher is famous for messing with your eyeballs. The beauty of Escher’s technique is that the effects are rooted in the 2-dimensional – with lines, light, and shadow, he created impossible architecture. Escher relied on the idea of shared planes – that is, one portion of an image can be viewed as belonging to two different sections.
Escher made the first two prints (below) in the 1930s, which show the beginnings of what would later become much more sophisticated (and trippy).
Candle Mirror is actually a regular picture, but Escher chose an interesting angle that includes the arch and the city outside, as if the mirror itself is a window.
It seems like the books and other objects could be perched on a windowsill with the buildings outside, but I’ve never seen a windowsill that looks like the corner of a table. This demonstrates Escher’s willingness to start going out of the realm of strict realism. (He owned some cool-looking books, too.)
Firmly in the realm of the impossible now, Escher here creates multiple “gravity wells” that are at odds with each other. It’s interesting that he incorporated images from space – remember that it was 1947, over forty years before the Hubble Telescope was launched, so he must have been working from land-based telescope photos. He also made those creepy human-headed birds.
This image is comprised of two views of the same thing, melded together. The fun comes from seeing where the two pictures meet, and how seamless the edges are. The floor tile and ceiling tile intermingle, while stairs emerge from the side of the bottom arch and the tower grows outward to fool the eye into thinking it rises up. Try counting how many things appear in both views, and more importantly, which parts are shared.
Now we come to the stairs. You know the ones.
House of Stairs and Relativity both demonstrate Escher’s “gravity wells” and clever placement of stairs to mess with your mind. (Labyrinth also messes with your mind.)
Convex and Concave requires some effort to see what Escher intended. The image appears to be just a unique architectural design; however, paying attention to the flag under the curve on the right side, you’ll notice that the two black arches can be interpreted as tops and bottoms of bridges, and many of the other surfaces can, with some concentration, be viewed as the opposite of what they first appear to be.
Belvedere, below, is relatively simple – Escher placed the bases of the pillars in unexpected places, and added the ladder to highlight how wrong it all is.
Lastly there is Waterfall, the most exciting of the stairs images. Your eye can’t stop but zigzag with the water, back and forth, the perspective changing even as your eyes move. Something else that you might not notice at first is the coral in the bottom-left corner and the flat terraces in the background.