Amazed: the step-by-step guide to making an MC Escher maze.

Pulling visitors to its galleries, away from the madding crowds of Princes Street and the Mound, is always the challenge for the Scottish National  Gallery of Modern Art.   Which explains the decision to construct a family-friendly maze – inspired by the summer show The Amazing World of MC Escher – on the lawn of Modern Two.

MC Escher, Old School Fabrications, Scottish National

At least a small miracle. Picture by Old School Fabrications.

The exhibition explores the mind-bending works of MC Escher.   While he is most famous for never-ending visual tricks,  like never-ending stairs,  the show highlights his links with Surrealists, and with original drawings alongside etchings celebrates his extraordinary skill as a craftsman.

Three years ago, former Scottish art students Neville Rae (environmental art at Glasgow School of Art) and Scott Laverie (painting at Edinburgh College of Art) formally launched their company, Old School Fabrications, to serve a growing trade in building props, furniture, installations and artworks.   They were the natural choice for building an Escher maze to complement the exhibition experience.

They took as their starting point, said Neville, three of Escher’s most iconic images, all on show in the exhibition, drawing on the forms of  the upside down steps of Convex and Concave (1975), the uphill streams of Waterfall (1961) and the arches of Belvedere (1958).

MC Escher, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Belvedere 1958
Lithograph, 58.9 x 41.2 cm
Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, The Netherlands.
© 2015 The M.C. Escher Company – Baarn, The Netherlands.

“We had also looked at Labyrinth, the film that David Bowie is in, and there’s a scene with him which was Escher inspired,” he said.

Maze Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art MC Escher


The Modern Two maze is a compact 12 metres square but was clearly affording enormous enjoyment to several children on a recent visit.   It was constructed from about 300 pieces of spruce plywood, with a clear weather proof varnish so that it wouldn’t expand when wet.

Each dead end has a fascinating fact about Escher.  such as that he turned down a commission from Mick Jagger, at the height of his late-life popularity in the the 1960s and  ’70s, to design an album cover.  The solution is not exactly impossible,  but it takes about 100 metres to reach the middle with seven dead ends.

The Old School Fabrications designers began with detailed plans.  (Neville was pleased to hear that one friend compared the end result to the work of Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.)

Planning by Old School Fabrications

Planning by Old School Fabrications

It eventually took four to five days to assemble the maze on site.

  • Assembly 1

Old School Fabrications emerged from that conundrum facing almost any fine art graduate who hasn’t been scooped up by Saatchi:  can you afford to be an artist?  “Scott and I did really do quite well as artists for a couple of years but it’s really hard to sustain that,” said Neville.

A year after graduating in 2005, he had a show at Inverleith House,  called A Town for Tomorrow, as did Scott.   But both, with young families, needed to combine being creative with making a living.   (Neville’s partner, Amy Dennis, is an artist represented by the Scottish Gallery, while Scott’s partner, Ailsa Lochead, is a contemporary artist and recent MFA graduate from ECA.)

The pair met while installing exhibitions for galleries, and developed their local clientele through word of mouth,  working from concrete, metal, of fibreglass.   The company is now based at the former School House in Peaston, East Lothian, a space traditionally rented to artists, generating enough work for two part-time employees and a summer intern.

“We found a middle ground, we set up a company,  and we can still be really creative and be our own people and make objects, it’s still the same process as an artist, you develope and research and draw it up and make it,” Neville said.   “Anything that comes in we will give it a bash.”

The array of projects on the Old School Fabrications website speaks for itself; Neville points with some pride to The Dell, a “multi-functional children’s playspace” for the John Hope Gateway at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.   Other eye-catching work has included giant fibre-glass hippos and trainers for children to paint.

The area around Peaston is turning into something of a creative industry hub; within three miles of the firm’s workshop, there are two top-end furniture markers:  Colin Parker, who studied jewellery and silversmithing at ECA,  at Colin Parker Furniture, and another former art student making award-winning furniture, Namon Gaston.   Equally close by is Angus and Mark, where Malcolm Mack, who studied 3-d design at ECA, is co-founder with Julian Angus of a company specialising in contemporary staircases and cabinetry.   All of it food for thought for art graduates,  perhaps, in using a creative background and visual education in a transition to more commercial, hands-on making.

In the meantime, there’s nothing like a good maze.   The current show at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, of Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, is worth it just to see Lodewijk Toeput’s extraordinary painting,  Pleasure Garden with a Maze, dated to 1579 – 84 (the artist was also known as Pozzoserrato, which makes for two extraordinary names).

Pleasure Garden with a Maze, by Toeput, aka Pozzoserrato

Pleasure Garden with a Maze, by Toeput, aka Pozzoserrato

Close examination of the picture – this is a poor and partial reproduction – reveals folk getting up to all kinds of fun in the maze.    At Hampton Court Palace,  the famous maze dates to 1700 and is described as the “oldest surviving hedge maze”.   It’s surprisingly small, but surprisingly confusing, as you walk along the narrow passages, between high hedges, accompanied by many cooing tourists.

Mazes, like MC Escher’s work, have a perennial attraction, dating back to the mythic Minotaur at the heart of the Labyrinth.   A personal favourite as mazes go is the Mirror Maze at the Gletscher Garden in Switzerland, an old fashioned hall of mirrors with reflections that run into infinity.  Then there’s the extraordinary mirrored staircase leading up to  the Einstein Museum in Bern, where  the steps below seem to stretch into a bottomless infinity.   There’s a distinctly maze-like quality to Carsten Holler’s current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Decision, where you’re challenged to feel your way along pitch-black corridors.



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