M.C. Escher‘s “Other World” from 1947 indeed has an “other worldly” characteristic.  The image itself contains 3 distinct perspectives — each containing a bird creature and horn.  If you focus on any one of the three perspectives the other two will disappear.

In a way, the fact that Escher’s works (in general) would not only contain multiple perspectives, but perspectives in such a way that you can only enjoy “one” while ignoring the others is what makes him a master.  As a contrast to other surrealist artists, sometimes one might get the impression that surreal is simply “melty, slimy, or bulbous.”  While images that are melty, slimy, or bulbous may be “surreal” — “surreal” encompasses much more than that, as evidenced here by Escher.

In terms of composition, it’s a little difficult to talk about on the whole, because if you try to look at the piece as a single coherent work, it seems your eyes have a tendency to space out a little — creating eye strain or making you dizzy.  It could be just me, but as the human mind has great difficulty in focusing on more than one visual reference point at a time, it’s hard to look at something with such spatial depth only as a “flat design.”

Part of the thing the may make Escher’s work seem inherently powerful, as if by ‘magic,’ is that not only are the images “impossible realities” but also that because it’s hard to focus on the picture as a unified whole, it seems impossible or at least difficult to create.

Now, while Escher is a master, sometimes one’s own understandings of an artwork is increased if the goal is not to admire a master, but to “discover the gimmick.”  That may sound cynical — but, the purpose is not to be cynical, but to attempt to think like a detective so that one might recreate a similar type of illusion.

I can’t say sure but I’m inclined to think that the painting may have started off with a different orientation — where either the current left or right side of the image were designed as top or bottom.  If you flip the image, it becomes easier to see how the image looks more “standard.”  This is probably not how Escher did it… but based on some alternate sources, whatever the case, it seems Escher did vast amounts of work in planning an unreality (as opposed to a meticulous yet unplanned creation of madness).

For some examples about how Escher would work… check out “Impossible World’s article” or the “Escape into Life Article” which talks about Escher as a perfectionist and a mathematician.

In short, it’s safe to say that Escher wasn’t just some “mad artist” flying by the seat of inspiration.  He didn’t consider himself some “Neo” in the Matrix that would just will out art as if by alchemy or magic.  Who Escher was — was someone… in his own words…

“I try in my prints to testify that we live in a beautiful and orderly world, not in a chaos without norms, even though that is how it sometimes appears.”  M C Escher

Better yet — check out Escher’s extended statement “On Being a Graphic Artist.