This exchange, brought to you on the anniversary of Escher’s birth, is from Letters of Note: Art; and the audio, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Mick Jagger and Sanjeev Bhaskar as M. C. Escher, is from the accompanying audiobook. You’ll notice Benedict almost crumbling near the end of his letter as the weight of Jagger reduces him to laughter1. Leaving it in seemed sensible.
M. C. Escher was an enigmatic Dutch artist born on this day in 1898 to George Escher, a civil engineer, and Sara Gleichman. Until the mid-1930s, living in Rome with his wife, Jetta Umiker, Escher was an avid painter of the landscapes and scenes of nature that surrounded him, and it wasn’t until approximately 1935, triggered by the sight of some geometric tiling at Alhambra Palace in Spain, that he began to produce the mind-boggling work for which he is now celebrated: optical illusions that he called “mental imagery.” In January of 1969, months before 71-year-old Escher produced the last of his prints (‘Snakes’), he was contacted by the Rolling Stones’ frontman, Mick Jagger, who had a request related to their upcoming album, Through The Past Darkly. Escher soon replied.
For quite some time now I have had in my possession your book (Graphic Works Of..) and it never ceases to amaze me each time I study it! In fact I think your work is quite incredible and it would make me very happy for a lot more people to see and know and understand exactly what you are doing.
In March or April this year, we have scheduled our next LP record for release, and I am most eager to reproduce one of your works on the cover-sleeve. Would you please consider either designing a “picture” for it, or have you any unpublished works which you might think suitable—the “optical illusion” idea very much appeals to me, although one like "Evolution" would of course be equally as suitable—and would say the same thing. You might even like to do a long one like “Metamorphosis” which we could then reproduce as a folding-out sleeve. It could be either in one colour or full colour, that would be up to you entirely.
Naturally, both you and your publishers would get full credits on the sleeve, and we could negotiate a fee on hearing of your decision to do it. I would be most grateful if you could contact Peter Swales or Miss Jo Bergman at the above address or telephone (reverse charge), and either will give you every necessary assistance. However, I am not so fortunate as to possess a Dutch interpreter, and so if you do not speak English or French, I would again be grateful if you could fix up somebody in Baarn to oblige.
Yours very sincerely,
for ROLLING STONES LTD
Some days ago I received a letter from Mr. Jagger asking me to design a picture or to place at his disposal unpublished work to reproduce on the cover-sleeve for an LP record.
My answer to both questions must be no, as I want to devote all my time and attention to the many commitments I made; I cannot possibly accept any further assignments or spend any time on publicity.
By the way, please tell Mr. Jagger I am not Maurits to him, but
M. C. Escher
This was recorded in December 2019 and I filmed it, too. Sadly I’m unable to show you the footage. All I can say is that for 20 minutes or so, Benedict Cumberbatch became Mick Jagger both in voice and in arm gestures, and I laughed to the point of tears.