Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Credit to Mr. Penrose

M.C. Escher’s famous lithograph Ascending and Descending (1960) shows a stairway that appears to go forever up and down in each direction.

I’ve been fascinated by this illusion since I was a kid, because nothing in your brain tells you it’s an impossible object. When I started reading more about it, I discovered that the father-and-son mathematician team L.S. and Roger Penrose dreamed up the idea and published it in 1959. They shared it with Escher and became friends with him. None of them were aware that even earlier, around 1950, a Swedish artist named Oscar Reutersvärd had independently come up with the very same idea.


I started wondering if such a stairway might exist in Dinotopia. How would it look in the early morning lit by lamplight? Instead of being just an endless stairway going nowhere, what if it was used to connect two buildings? That way you could have two groups using the stairs, one group with low status—say, college freshmen—always forced to travel upstairs to and from class, while the upperclassmen could have the luxury of going downstairs to the same place.


My version from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara owes a debt to Escher, of course. But I also want to give credit to Mr. Penrose and his son.

So in the new book, next to my illustration of the "Scholar's Stairway" there is a banner for the "Pen and Rose Fraternity." It shows a feather pen intertwined with a rose. The words “Pen” and “Rose” are written alongside in Dinotopia’s unique footprint alphabet.

7 comments:

Les Miserable said...

James, I just found you through a comment you left on a Library of Congress blog. And what a find! I'm so impressed. I'm going to recommend you to BoingBoing if they haven't already run a piece on you. Makes my day finding people like you. à bientôt, Malkie, Paris. Welcome to Wallyworld

James Gurney said...

Merci, Mr. Miserable,
I can see that you are the champ when it comes to getting the word out online, so I thank you for letting others know about my little blog.

Michael said...

Every time you show another painting of the Chandara book, the more excited I get in anticipation of it!

Emilio said...

wonderful tribute to Escher, and great piece by itself

Emilio said...

did you do any model for this painting?, it would be very interesting to see the creation process.

Dakota said...

Mr. James how could you?!
Now I'll be up all night trying to figre out how this staircase works! LOL

Christian Supiot said...

I feel so stupid now seen this post. Last Friday, i received Journey to Chandara and I didnt see the optical escher efect.

:(