- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

In “Arthur Tress: Photographs From ‘The Tao of Physics’ Series” at the National Academy of Sciences, trailblazing photographer Arthur Tress, best known for his otherworldly, visionary — often creepy-crawly — fantasies, exhibits 30 of his admired, albeit little-known, photographic abstractions.

The product of his 1983 artistic investigations into artistic and scientific phenomena, these extraordinarily beautiful black-and-white images are unlike any of his other work.

Visitors to the exhibit may not immediately connect the artist’s photographic swirls of dense, gritty black objects set against geometric configurations to either art or science — or to what Mr. Tress believes are their similarities. But once viewers carefully consider prints such as “Untitled (Motion)” and “Untitled (Laws of Nature)” they may begin to see what the photographer is seeking.

Mr. Tress, reached by telephone at his studio in Cambria, Calif., says that in structuring his art he is attempting to simulate nothing less than what he calls “the fabric of the universe.”

His cosmic ambitions begin with modest materials.

“First, I gather found objects such as rubber tubing, translucent tape and finely made grids,” he explains. “Then, I arrange them in geometric patterns on textured backgrounds such as cement, plastic, snow and sand. Finally, after spray painting with aerosol paint to create layers, I photograph the results. What I want is that the patterns of these arrangements echo the patterns of the universe.”

Circling the exhibition, viewers sense that the photos seem to embody different moods, much like nature itself. In “Motion,” for example, the artist energetically shoots intensely blackened tubes across the surface, first in diagonals, then in softly curved “S” shapes. He then places the tubes on wide swaths of tape that, in turn, sit on intricately textured white grids. By these placements, the photographer creates a feeling of quintessential movement.

In “Laws of Nature,” by contrast, Mr. Tress conveys a lighter mood through the use of simpler patterning. A strongly delineated white grid threads through thinner black tubing. They intersect with softly curved white tubes that, in turn, lie on a flat white circle.

The artist’s use of geometries continues with “Untitled (Geometry)” and “Untitled (Dance).” Academy exhibit director J.D. Talasek cites influences in the “Tao Series” ranging from Russian constructivism and Tibetan prayer woodcuts to the stenciling techniques of 19th-century architect Louis Sullivan. The geometricized triangles on wood of “Geometry,” Mr. Talasek observes, echo the constructivists and Tibetan woodcuts. “Dance” could be a witty play of spray-painted film reels.

Swinging shapes dominate the “Tao Series,” which should come as no surprise. Mr. Tress studied Zen Buddhism in Kyoto, Japan in 1966, so use of the circle, symbol of eternity and emptiness, comes easily to him.

He later read Fritjof Capra’s “The Tao of Physics,” which led him to the idea that underlies this series. “Artists, scientists and mathematicians make approximate formulas around the way they perceive how the world is organized,” Mr. Tress contends. “These perceptions are often felt as abstract patterns.”

This is definitely not an easy philosophy, and it doesn’t yield a conveniently simple key to interpreting the images on view at the academy.

But these are fascinating, cerebral images sure to challenge visitors.

WHAT: “Arthur Tress: Photographs From ‘The Tao of Physics’ Series”

WHERE: Gallery, National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays through March 13

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/334-2436

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