this journey down the river.‘
Tress’ account of how the project arose portrays it as a series of fortuitous accidents. Staying in a small cottage overlooking the Hudson River. he had been toying with the idea of recreating four prints by the 19th century Hudson River painter Thomas Cole. The prints. collectively called ‘The Voyage of Life‘ are highly symbolic. depicting the four ages of man as a journey taken by a boatman down a river.
‘The woman I had rented the cottage from was. like myself. a lover of flea markets and thrift shops‘. explains Tress. ‘She collected little ceramics from the 40s and 50s and all the shelves ofthe house were full of figures— one ofwhich was the fisherman in a boat‘. It was a logical step to provide an allegorical ‘river’ for the fisherman. and the hunt for an old aquarium was another typically Tressian adventure. its conclusion taking place in the attic of a lost. — enchanted perhaps — antique shOp on a mountain top.
The accidental element of the whole thing is important to Tress. as he explains when I mention that he once described his camera as a means of imposing order on a chaotic world. ‘Well the thing about photography is that you have to be very careful not to impose too much order — what made the pictures was partly the accidental finding of
objects. because I wouldn‘t know what I would find in the ﬂeamarket each week. and then I would have shelves full ofthese objects. and they sort ofdrew themselves together in groups. Then. ofcourse. you‘re also working out in nature and the light is changing. the weather‘s changing. the winds start up. the tide might come up and the whole stand start to sink. . . so there‘s a lot of interacting with the accidental elements.‘
King of kitsch. Tress has placed the strangest things inside his aquarium — biscuit jars and plastic dolls. salt shakers and. best of all. a series of bottle stoppers fashioned after American Presidents — the exhibition is in part. an expression of incredulity at the sort of things people make. buy and hoard. and as he explains the different pictures. Tress often laughs at his own ingenuity. He has lamented the lack of magic in some modern photography. and frequently cites his own childhood in Coney Island as an influence in his work. ‘It seemed to have a big effect. When I was younger. in the 50s. there were still all the old amusement parks. a little bit like Brighton beach. but more exaggerated. like Disneyland. They were either in ruins or still existed. and I took my first photographs there. It had a feeling of magic in decline. It affected me. I suppose. just as someone who took their first
The American (irizzly. Driven mad with desires Scares her away With the screeching of his tires.
photographs in bombed-out London would be affected.”
Teapot Opera' and Fish Tank Sonata are to be joined soon by a third parable — Requiem for a Paperwie 'ht. In fact the eponymous paperweight figures briefly in Fish Tank. He is a small executive. a travelling salesman maybe. and Tress has already invented for him a wife and a house in the suburbs. As usual. he is. to some extent. leaving the story to fate. ‘I haven’t really figured it out. He may be taken away in a UFO. he may have a nervous breakdown — something that makes him see that his corporate life is not as perfect as he thinks.‘ The first ofthe trilogy has already come out in small. hardback format (Tress likes the idea of Beatrix Potter‘s neat. boxed sets) and he hopes to see Fish Tank published soon. Other possible projects include a series on joggers’ fantasies. ‘Jogging has a lot to do with death‘. he says. “In a way you jog. not because you really want to do it but because of the spectre ofdeath chasing you‘. Is Arthur Tress kooky? Arthur Tress is fantastically kooky.
Fish Tank Sonata is at Portfolio Gallery, 43 Candlemaker Row until 7 September.
The List l(i-— 22 August NW 21