You probably saw his work hanging on the walls of your friends' college dorm rooms. You probably stared at them trying to figure out what kind of mind came up with those precise, impossible and imaginative illusions.
Now you can see his work in a museum.
On Saturday, St. Petersburg's Dali Museum unveiled a new exhibition called "Escher at the Dali." It features 135 works created by M.C. Escher, the Dutch artist known for such works as "Drawing Hands" which shows two partially drawn hands, each drawing the other, and "Waterfall," which features a complex, plausible and impossible structure in which water flows up hill.
Unlike other recent exhibits at the Dali that showed how Dali was influenced by DaVinci, and how Dali and Picasso influenced each other, the work of Escher stands apart from any Dali paintings, in its own gallery.
And even though most of us have seen copies of these prints, there's value in seeing them in this form, museum officials say.
"I think the thing is you get a chance to see them all together," said Peter Tush, the Dali Museum's education curator. "They're very different in person."
Escher was born in 1898, six years before Dali, so he was a contemporary. But Tush said Escher stood alone in the art world, not part of the surrealist school or any other group or movement.
"From what I've been able to find out he worked alone," Tush said. "He pulled all his own prints. He didn't use a printmaker. He didn't have anyone selling his work for him. That's really remarkable."
There is a parallel to Dali, though, in that both began their careers with more conventional, relatively realistic works that are seldom seen today before they moved into the more mind-bending pieces for which they are famous. The Escher exhibit includes some of those early works, including a portrait of his wife, and shows the gradual move toward optical illusions and visual puzzles.
The turning point from realism to illusion comes in one particular print that's in the exhibit. It appears at first to be a conventional street scene, looking out from the artist's desk through a window. But when you look closer, you see that the surface of the desk morphs into the surface of the street, and the book on the desk seem to be leaning up against buildings in the distance.
Escher barely eked out a living through most of his life. He had moved to Italy and had to flee the fascists in the 1930s, but when he got back to the occupied Netherlands the Nazis were hostile to artists.
It was probably Escher's lack of success that saved him, Tush said. He was so obscure the Nazis didn't bother him.
Still, he worked hard.
Nicholas Kondoprias, managing director of the Herakleidon Museum in Athens, which loaned the works to the Dali for the exhibit, said Escher was so committed to mathematical precision that he would sometimes make 60 preliminary drawing before he created a print.
"And these drawings are works of art in themselves," Kondoprias said. "They're not like Toulouse-Lautrec scribbling a drawing on a napkin in the Moulin Rouge."
It wasn't until the 1950s, when Time and a couple of other major American magazines featured Escher on their covers, that he gained a measure of success. He was especially popular with mathematicians and engineers, and he often consulted with them when he was working out new ideas for his impossible structures.
But he was as interested in nature as he was mathematics, and many of his best-known works are seascapes that evolve into skyscapes, birds that become fish, or day scenes that become night scenes.
He died in 1972, at age 73, and created amazing works right up until his death. His last print is part of the exhibit.
He would have kept going if he had lived longer.
"He said 'I could literally fill another life with all the ideas I have,'" Tush said.
Details: Through Jan. 3, The Dali Museum. 1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg. Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Sunday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets: $24 general, $22 seniors, military, firefighters, police, educators; $17 teens and college students; $10 children 6-12; free for children 5 and under. Information: 727-823-3767, the dali.org.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.