Dutchman’s Dilemma

We took a day trip to Bologna to see an art exhibit by the famous 20th century Dutch artist, M. C. Escher. We were fully engaged by the whimsy and mystery of his work. One lithograph that put us into an especially reflective mood and conversation is called Hand with Reflecting Sphere, or sometimes known as Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror.

Indonesian Shadow Puppet

In the drawing we see Escher’s hand holding a reflective sphere. We see his distorted face as he sits at a desk in a rather ordinary and unimaginative room. Hanging on the wall behind him is a picture of an ancient Indonesian Shadow puppet commonly used to tell a story—generally performed at night. In the shadow-play, the projected images are void of details requiring the imagination to fill in the rest. The shadowy performance had the power to transport the viewer into a rich personal experience with spiritual significance.

For us, his artwork always asks the deeper question: “what’s really happening here?” since there is always more than meets the eye. Both possibilities and impossibilities abound. Escher’s art provoked us into exploring our openness, boundaries, curiosity and creativity by writing a song and story of our own shadowed thoughts. Life is always a bit of a “Dutchman’s Dilemma,” taking us on convoluted twists and turns in the midst of our illusions of certainty.



There is a hand, holding a sphere
Reflecting an outstretched hand, holding a sphere
There is a drawing, with pencil in hand
A sketch of a hand, drawing a pencil in hand, in 3-D
Peering even closer still, I wonder how can it be?
Beginnings without ends—mystery

There is a man, climbing the stairs
Ascending to another plane, step by step
Nearby another man makes his way
But he’s walking down, descending into depths yet unknown
Turning the page around, I wonder what do I see?
Deciding which is up or down—that’s the key

An artist’s vision leads us to see more
Showing something never seen before

An artist’s language may seem familiar
Whispering magic words

Perspective altered with the stroke of the pen
Perspective shifted again
Just with the stoke of a pen

Escher plays, as he looks at the day
Inspecting every little thing, until it moves
Birds fill the sky, taking to flight
Their tails interlace but which way do they face, in mid-air
Separate forms fill the page, yet somehow blend into one
Exchanging black for white—how is it done?

Where there were none
To worlds beyond

Escher Gallery


From album – Quiet Comes Along
Track released – 11.1.17
Cheryl Martlage – Lyrics, Vocals and Production
Emerson Martlage – Music, Guitar, Vocals and Production
Inspiration – M.C. Escher exhibit

Pencil drawing of “Hand with Reflecting Sphere” by Emerson

Images of Escher drawings in Gallery – from the Official Escher Website

Image of Indonesian Shadow Puppet – from Mapietreasures on Etsy