Understanding impossible images: Reutersvärd lecture to be held at the Lilly Library

Post by IU Communications colleague Milana Katic:

Oscar Reutersvärd Drawing

One of Reutersvärd’s “impossible images” that can be seen at the Lilly Library. Oscar Reutersvärd, drawing on paper.

Somewhere between the second and third dimension lies the impossible world of Swedish graphic designer Oscar Reutersvärd.

Now, at the center of Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, one can catch a glimpse of that world in the new collection of his “impossible images” at the Lilly Library.

“My breath is taken away by Oscar Reutersvärd, especially after seeing this collection in the last few days,” said Chris Mortensen, Professor Emeritus of the University of Adelaide in Australia who will be giving a talk on the subject this Thursday. Mortensen is an expert in inconsistent mathematics and logic — especially when it comes to mathematically impossible images such as the ones produced by Reutersvärd.

The collection includes over 350 pieces of the Swedish designer’s unique inconsistent images, meaning the seemingly three-dimensional object that you can clearly perceive on paper cannot possibly exist in reality. Though designers like M.C. Escher might be better known for these types of illusionary pieces, Reutersvärd is considered to be the first to systematically produce inconsistent imagery, with more than 4,000 perception-stretching images in his repertoire.

Oscar Reutersvärd Drawing

Manipulating the perception of stairs is a staple in impossible imagery. Oscar Reutersvärd, limited edition print.

“There’s an issue here, which is, who got there first and who got the credit?” Mortensen said. “Reutersvärd was 18 years younger than Escher. He got there a good 10 to 15 years ahead of Escher. Reutersvärd was the unique line genius who was ahead of his time.”

Mortensen’s talk on Reutersvärd’s Impossible images will be held on July 17 at 4 p.m. in the Lilly Library’s Slocum Room. For more information, visit the Lilly Library’s website.

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