The Dream Collector

October 26, 2012

A long time ago in 1979 I got really lucky. In those years you were more likely to get serendipitous when browsing the book stands near Flora Fountain. There were some genuine beauties you could buy easily on a collegian’s pocket money, that is if you saved up instead of the wada pavs and movies. I was obsessed with books and still am but it gets harder each year with the devaluation of the rupee and printing costs and things going through the roof. Also work is getting slicker and more finished, wonderful print values and superlative form but don’t you get the feeling that ‘content’ is sorely lacking. Everything looks like a mass make over. So Arthur Tress comes across even today as enriched uranium.


His early book called The Dream Collector is a documentary, social commentary and artistic rendition of the subliminal, the unconscious, the REM and the John Fowles of the visual world.



The most wonderful part about Tress and all subsequent work that he has produced is his effortlessness. The Dream Collector is all about children enacting their fantasies, making real the virtual, making surreal the obscure.


Tress goes (because ‘went’ is so past tense and ‘done’) about recording on a tape machine, children’s dreams, believing that dreams are telling us about ourselves, that they are an indicator of what we are concealing, putting aside, not dealing with, in other words dreams are playing out for us a script for action to be taken, the past, present and future becoming one homogenous continuum.


Arthur Tress ‘renders several dominant themes in his photographs, the child’s expression of fear combined with intuitive curiosity his hands reaching, exploring shape and texture; and the emergence from darkness and light’.  He gets on amazingly well with children which may account for the ease with which they can relate to him. He has a child like quality that they intuitively understand as genuine.


The foreword talks about the easy conversational, non threatening style that Arthur Tress has that children trust, that he takes them seriously must throw them off. He is never disparaging or dismissive or patronising. He shows them respect and in return they give him a dream for his collection. He then plays the dream back for them and initiates an enactment in a setting and backdrop that will lend itself to the mood and the sentiment. Then he waits patiently for that flash of inspiration when the child does something spontaneous and beguiling and then he knows he’s collected the rare species in a jam jar.


The photographs are rich in photographic skill and temperament.  The images are disturbing in large part due to the illusion becoming tonal and bromide.  Like Fowles it is unnerving to see dreams like butterflies in a display case impaled on a pin. The ambience is largely desolate and lonely.  There are monsters looming out of children’s heads. He employs the diptych in many frame, the top half revealing one reality, the lower half another. If one becomes introspective which is what the book is ultimately seeking, you begin to see yourself as a child might see you, it can be ugly and cause you to stop, think and feel. Each image is a surprise as dreams are generally. Each dream is visually explicit and in black and white. The dreams connect literary to the audio which is connected to the smell to the texture and the sensation, the emotion and the intellect. What dreams are saying are seldom the obvious.


Tress is a versatile photographer a couple of his other books are available with homoerotic overtones and generally the macabre. His exhibition called Fantastic Voyage ran at the Piramal gallery for photography in 1995 and was a treat to behold, there was humour and exquisitely crafted prints. Tress is not as well known as he should be. But look out for his work which is loaded always with surprise and adventure.

Two way Mirror

March 19, 2010


When is a table lamp not a table lamp or a squirrel not a rodent? When does a handkerchief become a cat, Schrödinger notwithstanding? When is the Truth a half-truth?

Debraj Goswami’s acrylic on canvasses have that sort of sleight of hand quality; blink and something else might appear in its place.

“It all started with small 1 square foot canvasses of symbols and forms that would not go away just as the Godhra nightmare still comes back to shake us up”. Debraj’s close proximity to Godhra both in geography, he lives and works out of Baroda, and his ‘socio-political’ bent made him investigate the reality and illusion of war, its carnage and its weapons. The accusatory, finger-pointing hand of Michelangelo’s god is omniscient and ubiquitous. 20 small canvasses mosaic-morph into My experiments with Half Truths.

In Godly Fingers, that hand is being hurled at an Adam, who could easily be replaced by you the viewer, standing helpless against a pegboard. The hand-dart intentionally misses the target with some divine magic. Adam lives another day to tell more lies or not reveal the whole truth.

The spin doctors and six-pack muscular media-politicians protect themselves from a barren, nuclear polluted word with rose-tinted gas masks pretending with a magician’s candor that war does not exist, Guernica however is leaking from under the table like a bribe. There is a childish boast – realization in ‘See I’m growing up mummy’

The squirrel in the divine equation is a hapless innocent creature, a bhakti, the common man oblivious of the Ram-politics.  It travels through several matrixes and emerges unwittingly at the other end as Alice in the looking glass. Now you see me now you don’t.

Patho(s)logical, the painting, is graphic and narrative, what goes in does come out albeit altered. But you don’t quite know which is the beginning or the end, do you read the work from right to left as in the Islamic world or the other way around. Does the truth become a falsity or do lies interface with the truth, the animate becomes the inanimate. The linear – circular.

All Goswami’s work leaves you with a feeling of déjà vu. The title to the show a take on Gandhi’s – Experiments with the Full Truth, the symbols, the metaphors, the surrealist genre, Rene Margarite, Salvador Dali, Picasso are all there lurking or spilling out perforce. The surprise element therefore is a bit dampened.  The work A Brief Mystery of Time reverses scale and mass in a Hawking-Einsteinian way, a nuclear mushroom cloud diminishes the global atlas to an amniotic puppy, and you don’t need conventional weapons of mass destruction, market forces and an insurance plan can do you in.

The intrepid quadruped has a Fallacy of Four Terms, is it a dog? is it a horse? The illuminating table lamp that is supposed to shed light on the subject obfuscates the reality with a fork-filament, enlightenment is about survival and your next meal. Yet mysteriously the headless, creature-beast moves onwards to the sound of a distant drummer.

If you went in grim you’d emerge with a half frown-smile.

Quintessential Ashok

March 19, 2010

The timing has never been better for photographers who want to explore the creative world of fine art photography. The market is in a nascent stage but if art is currency then the 1400-point sensex should be a good omen too. There are some photographers who have been commercial photographers only because the market was ready to have them, but some of them felt restricted working to a brief often shoddily thought through, directed oftener by wet behind the ears advertising ‘creative’.

With fine art photography as with painting, sculpture and print making the buck stops squarely on the individual photographer, there is no where to hide and no client, no agency to answer to. It’s you and the jungle. Ashok Salian’s debut solo show on at Jamaat  9 Jan to 2 Feb is like a pathfinders compass, while he himself is searching through five separate subjects, the viewer has to align themselves to magnetic north then journey to the centre.

Each of those subjects have names, for Ashok the beginning is where it all started, with the black and white series of four images called Surrealism. The title is a bit loaded and ambitious for all the art history baggage that that brings. ‘It was the pressure to make images for the Exhibit A show’ where commercial photographers showcase their own personal work, and what Ashok calls, laziness, that prompted the exploration. While laziness is often associated with lack of physical get up and go, like some travel photography, you don’t necessarily have to leave home to indulge in it. The ramshackled gala next door to his studio became the scene of ‘organised’ chaos. In many ways you want to return to the scene of the crime, there are elements and a backward Secundrabad stencil along with a woman whose lips are sealed. You have to unravel the secret yourself; it’s a dark world there, rich with texture and light peers through meaningfully. This quartet is the best work in the show, stripped of the realness of colour and 3D, the work is real and surreal hauntingly, brutally, honestly. Much of the work is projected, photocopied, analogue, each work independently and collectively is superb, and where in one photograph there is enough black space around the subjects to minimally speak to you without a concert.

The next Exhibit A 2001, prompted Introspection, the tools and chaos from the gala are all visible and in colour this time. Ashok restricts himself to a limited palette and the ink jet prints come off contrasty and dense. The image with the stark androgynous face has reticulated paint that entices you to touch but like the floating Daliesque watch dials, without hands.

The next series is called Exhilaration the images in vermillion and blue predominantly have a female figure waft across it Garden Varelliesque. The work seems two dimensional, less engaging with much less mystique.  The primary colours do all the work, immediately, form runs away with content.

Masks, the fourth series is a trilogy, they reveal or conceal very little, the slightly fuzzy focus does not add to the intrigue, they are what they are.

Tribute to Yoga is Ashok’s most recent work shown also at the last Exhibit A 2006, Ashok is passionate about yoga and how it has rejuvenated him, the work is some sense is formulaic and the technique improved and more precise, somehow while you are discovering new positions and decoding hidden manuscripts you are left with less surprise and magic.

After you are done you will retrace your steps and go back to the beginning. It shall be called the Saliant (sic) quartet.