Metamorphosis III

Collected Works: Art


Metamorphosis III

by M.C. Escher

View an image of the artwork

From the starting point of a blank, grey plane, we are led through a series of puzzling transformations: squares, diamonds, insects, lizards, fish and fowl, ships and buildings. This chain of being is an interplay of mathematics and art. The shapes may be fun to follow, but their lack of a fixed form is unsettling. It is as though each contorted creature is trapped within the ever-changing sequence, unable to escape its inexorable progress.

Metamorphosis III is a sweeping, horizontal work, a woodcut print in which organic and geometric imagery meet. In some panels, animals are contained within a grid-like structure, eventually becoming part of the form itself. By emphasising the intermediate stages in which beings are half-mutated into abstract shapes, the piece deprives us of any certainties to cling to. Any distinction between the sentient and the unconscious is questioned; the two become impossible to tell apart.

Although the structure appears to show a pattern of evolution, it begins and ends with the same monochrome void, perhaps presenting life as a fruitless string of slowly shifting circumstances. The effect is exacerbated by a refusal of logic. Each detail may make sense in isolation, but the overall image is one of apparent nonsense. The metamorphoses are at times tessellation-based, at others seemingly arbitrary connections.

The penultimate transformation sees a city become a chess board, suggesting that existence is merely a futile diversion. But the print can also be understood as an argument that distractions should not be denigrated; they are ubiquitous. Perhaps Escher’s own divertissements belie a serious pursuit. In Metamorphosis III, he may tell us a good joke, but the punchline reveals a dark sense of humour.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

The official website of M.C. Escher, including a biography and an overview of the artist's works, is here. You can view the image of Metamorphosis III here, and see a video of the artwork that scrolls horizontally here. You can see footage of the artwork being installed at The Hague here, and read an article on M.C. Escher by Steven Poole for The Guardian.

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