The last time we saw Nora O’Donnell, her brother was a vampire, her parents under the control of sorcerers, and she had just toppled backward into . . . nothing? Well, it turns out to be a very specific nothing, and Nora’s not alone. What price will she have to pay to get out of . . . nowhere? Find out in chapter 34 of Martha’s Children, my serial about cops, vampires, sorcerers, and a very bewildered teenage girl. If you’ve not been reading this story before, you can start here.
Nora mentions M.C. Escher (1898 – 1972), whose artwork is justly famous for the way it distorts reality, often through distorted perspectives or impossible topological transformations. But Escher’s wasn’t the only art that made people dizzy in the late 1960s, even without drugs. It was a great period for what was called “op art,” art that made use of optical illusions to fool the eye and confuse the brain. While trompe l’œil art had been produced in Europe for centuries, it was the combination of those techniques with the forms of artistic abstraction that had developed earlier in the twentieth century that spawned the op art movement. Its popularity in the United States is said to stem from a show called The Responsive Eye at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1965. So
popular were the images of op art that they were soon copied, altered, and reproduced everywhere. I remember buying book covers for my elementary school books that featured op art designs, and thinking they were rather cool. The black-and-white designs were the most common, and also the cheapest to reproduce. The craze lasted only a few years, and was definitely over by 1970. No doubt the limited range of op art designs available in popular culture wore out their welcome. While Escher’s work was often grouped with op art, and was also popular during the op art craze, it was more complex in conception, and continues to be popular.
Escher-style perspective is used to perfection in the climax scene of ‘The Labyrinth’, when the impossible Escher-style staircases are used by the Elf King (played by Dave Bowie) to confuse the protagonist, Sarah. If you’ve not seen it, it’s worth a look. There are some wonderful visual puns, even if some are corny.
I did see it, around the time it came out, but I don’t remember the scene. Worth a repeat look, then.