25/02/2015 10:33 GMT | Updated 25/04/2015 06:59 BST

Zadora: The Infamous Baltic Baron Taking on MC Escher


Andreas von Zadora-Gerlof, the famed gemstone sculptor begins a series of international shows showcasing his latest creations branching from the rarefied art of gem carving to the anticipated 3D re-imagination of the works of Dutch master MC Escher. For the past two decades von Zadora-Gerlof has focused on producing highly complex mechanical automaton and clock-pieces that have become his signature in the design and art world. In 2014 von Zadora-Gerlof turned his focus to M.C. Escher, turning the iconic fantasy two-dimensional works into large three-dimensional 'live' pieces.



Andreas von Zadora-Gerlof's Baltic-aristocrat family left Europe to settle in Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands where he was born in 1957. A hunting accident at fourteen paralysed his right hand and ruled him from the family's traditional path through the army. For therapy 'Zadora' began to study the techniques of Haida totemic art through a close family friend. Thirty years later, Zadora's art would adorn the most exclusive collections across the globe as arguably the world's foremost gemstone artist and heir apparent to the (similarly Baltic) Russian jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé. I caught up with him in his workshop in British Columbia.


I know, it's a story I love to tell. It is almost unbelievable. I grew up on The Queen Charlotte Islands seventy miles off the coast of British Columbia. It is a lush forested semi wilderness which lends itself to fishing and hunting. At fourteen, I suffered a serious accident while hunting that left my right hand crippled and claw like. The therapy was boring and tedious and left me feeling extremely depressed. One day Gordon Cross, a Haida Indian artist and good friend of my father, asked if he could assist in the therapy by teaching me some native crafts that might help strengthen my hand. From Gordon and others in his family, I was introduced to Haida art. I learned sculpting, silver engraving, totemic wood carving, and carving on argillite, a black stone native to the region.

I got so involved it was nothing for me to work ten or more hours. It dramatically improved my hand. It's still crippled today but you can hardly tell. Without both those events I would be doing something totally different today. This practice opened the possibility to sculpt for a living. It would lead me far away from home.


In London, 2007 von Zadora-Gerlof presented twenty-three semi precious intricately hand-sculpted life size skulls: Momento Moriis ('remember you will die'). Over two years he sourced and sculpted gemstones ranging from Rose Quartz, Amethyst, Green Jade and Rock Crystal. The body of work drew obvious comparisons to a certain Damien Hirst's famous diamond-encrusted skull 'For The Love of God' which appeared the very same year in London.


What Zadora is better known for is the smaller more intricate carvings cultivated of Haida technicalities often of elaborate animal shapes that feature heavily in animatronic form around the surrounds of his clock pieces.


It's a bit of a departure, why Escher and why now?

Escher is my artistic hero. I love Albrecht Dürer and the works Fabergé created for the tsars of Russia but Escher was different. He had an IQ that approached Einstein with attributes of Leonardo da Vinci. With Escher, the more you look, the more confused you become. I love that. So recreating Escher's work is fraught with danger, but also the inspiring challenge of working under the hand and eye of a genius.

It's patently fraught with pain and frustration, why not 'stick to the (proverbial) knitting'?

Because I'm a bit of a strange package. And everybody in the team is a bit of a strange package. Everybody is fanatical. Everybody wants to push themselves and do something that has never been done before. This is not about money or ego, it's about pride and knowing you've pushed your skill and craft to breaking point. That's powerful. I love doing things that have never been done before.


Will you return to the UK with the show?

Talks have started regarding a retrospective of my work in London and/ or New York. But for now I'm concentrating very hard on getting the opening Escher show in Dubai perfect. Once that ends, then the next part of the journey begins.


Design Days, Dubai, March 16-20th 2015

International dates TBA


Pictures / Copyright:

• [Clockwise] Zadora re-creation of Concentric Rinds; Escher's Gravity, 1952; Zadora: Concentric Rinds; Work in progress

• Zadora; MC Escher, 1898

• With: Christopher Forbes (L); Prince Charles

• Selection of artwork

• Zadora's workshop

All M.C. Escher works copyright © The M.C. Escher Company B.V. -Baarn-the Netherlands. All rights reserved.