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M. C. Escher

There certainly is an interest in the work of the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher among paperfolders. There is a recognisable sort of person who is interested in such things as Origami, knots, recreational mathematics, conjuring, cat's cradles, mechanical puzzles, fractals and not least, computers. Such people are usually fascinated by M.C.Escher.

To a person of this mind, it comes as a surprise that other people are not remotely interested in such subject. Some paperfolders, even, are primarily interested in its art and not in its geometry. Maybe that includes some of my readers!

I can pinpoint the date, when some of us, members of the BOS discovered Escher. It was on 5th April 1975 and we were holding our spring convention at the Kenilworth Hotel, not far from the British Museum, in London. Robert Harbin attended the convention and was in a lively mood. Sadly, it was the last we were to see of him. Another interesting visitor was Cy Enfield, the American film producer, who had come to live in England. It was he, who, by an amazing fluke, had put Robert Harbin and Gershon Legman in touch with each other.

As usual, I had made use of my visit to London to visit the bookshops and in Foyles I had stumbled on "The Graphic Works of M.C.Escher". Being one of the before-mentioned persons, I just had to buy it.

On returning to the Kenilworth I showed the book to other BOS members and they were all immediately hooked. In particular the book made a tremendous impression on Mick Guy, the young secretary of the BOS. He became fascinated by Escher's complicated tessellations and he decided to reproduce them in origami, devising ways to reproduce all their unusual angles. Soon after a whole stream of Escher-like tessellation's began to flow from Mick. He had some of them framed and hung them in his living-room.

But, to be honest, I do not believe that the link between Escher and paperfolding can be pushed very far. Tessellations are only one part of Escher's many-sided applications of mathematics to art. Much of it seeks to explore multi-dimensions and ambiguous viewpoints.

In his younger days, Escher visited the Moorish palace of the Alhambra at Granada in southern Spain. He was fascinated by the abstract Islamic patterns and made coloured sketches of them. In particular, he copied designs made up of tessellations, and it appears that this was the origin of this aspect of his work. However, Islamic pattern is much more varied than tessellations. It has an amazing complexity. By chance there was an exhibition of Islamic art in London, the following year, 1976, and I was able to study the subject in some detail. Several books on the subject were published. Islamic art is, however mere pattern. Esher's work is much more.

The key question is whether Spanish paperfolding originated with the Moors when they invaded Spain and dominated the peninsula for so many centuries. They certainly introduced the art of papermaking into Spain and it could be that simple folding had travelled from the east with papermaking.

Unfortunately this is all conjecture, and attractive though the theory is, there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate it. Vicente Palacios of Spain emphatically rejects the idea.

It is possible (and I would not put it any higher than that) that Islamic patterns are related to the fold patterns in paperfolding. Superficially, at any rate, some paperfolding patterns resemble some (but only some) Islamic patterns.

Curiously enough the Islamic connection later caused Mick Guy to abandon folding tessellations. He joined a lively, but strict church and obeyed their ruling that anything tainted with Islam was inconsistent with the faith of the Church. Those of us with less sensitive scruples can, however, continue to appreciate the wonderful tessellations created by Mick, just as we can enjoy the strange and other-worldly creations of M.C Escher's art.

David Lister

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