Transformation: what’s possible for…a tree

Yesterday afternoon, I was visiting with Kim Hinson at his shop, German Imports, in Kannapolis.

We had been talking for a good while, about a wide variety of topics: business, money, illness, health, stress, life, death, family, the past, the present, and the future.

Kim’s full of ideas and insights — always entertaining and always enlightening.

As I was leaving, about 6:15, he said, “Have you seen my tree?”

“What tree?” I asked. “That one?”

I pointed to a big tree in his front yard.

Kim’s shop is just down a hill from his house.

“No,” he said. “Hold on. You wanna see this.”

Well…we were surrounded by trees anyway. I was actually ready to go home and eat dinner, and I didn’t know where this tree was and why I would want to see it. I knew it was in the opposite direction from where I had parked my car.

But if somebody can be that excited about a tree, well, I guess I had to see the tree.

He locked up his shop and we walked up the hill and around to the back of his house.

And there was the tree.

“Oh. That tree. Who did that?”

He gave me the artist’s name but I didn’t catch it.

And after all the talking we had done earlier, he didn’t have much to say about it. It’s a two hundred year old oak that died, and now it looks like this.

And now I’m curious. Does it have a name? Whose idea was that (Kim’s, I’m sure). What is it?

But the answers to those questions are for another day.

“See you later,” he said. He had company — some folks standing in his back yard, waiting to see him. So he turned and walked past the tree in his backyard to see them.

Click here to see Kim’s tree.

And click here to see other…interesting trees.

Could each day be a work of art?

I had a pretty good day today.

First, after coming downstairs, I put a kettle on the stove for coffee.  While I waited for the water to boil, I went outside and gathered wood.  As I sit here, at 9pm, that fire is still doing quite nicely.

While the fire began and the coffee brewed, I made a large omelet with two kinds of cheese, mushrooms, and onions.  Alicia and I shared this.

After that, I think I surfed the web for a few minutes and checked email.

Then I read a short story called “YoungThing,” by Nuruddin Farah, in a recent copy of the New Yorker.  It was a sad story with considerable suspense about a young boy in Somalia who had joined a terrorist cell.

Then my daughter called in a panic.  She had to be at work and her car had broken down.  I dashed off to get her and as I drove down Innes Street my cell phone rang.   She had solved the problem.  She had run out of gas and was now back on the road.  It’s impossible for me to judge this behavior — since I myself ran out of gas just two days ago — on Thursday evening, a cold night — and Alicia had to venture out in the night with a gas can.

In the early afternoon, I went for a walk with Alicia and Jackie Mudpie (our dog).  We walked in the woods where it was peaceful and scenic.

Upon return, I got a phone call from Tapi — our family’s exchange student in 1973, and a college roommate after that — and one of my oldest, dearest friends.  We talked for a while about all kinds of stuff, including life, children, health, parents, yoga…

Then, I visited my Mom.  While there, sitting in her room, I read a tender piece by Joyce Carol Oates in that same copy of The New Yorker.  In “A Widow’s Story” Ms. Oates recalls the week in February of ’08 in which she lost her husband.  Her details are true and vivid and it breaks your heart.  Then I fed Mom part of her dinner.  Chicken.  Potatoes.  Gingerbread.  She ate, and drank, and never opened her eyes.

After that, I went to the mall and finished my daily 10k steps.  Ran into Keith and Carol Earnhardt, some good folks I haven’t seen in awhile, and enjoyed catching up. We talked about Christmas and business and children and pizza and beer.

Came home and had a bowl of soup and an avocado.  For dessert, I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and honey.

Currently, I’m sitting on the couch by the fire.  The dog is sleeping beside me, pressed against my hip.  In the kitchen, I have a cup of tea brewing.

There was some talk in the local news recently about whether a pair of underwear can be a work of art.

What about a day?  Can that be a work of art?

What if we lived each day as if it were a new work of art, and each moment of that day as if it were part of the work?  Whether we think of it that way or not (and I certainly have not done that, most of my days), that’s really what it is.

Life mirrors art

underwear art conflict
what is art?

Norman Mailer said that “once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever.”

Which is where we are now.  The Clyde Overcash/Anne Caldwell Cave/What is Art? conflict is basically over.  The rest is art.

I just finished reading several articles in today’s Salisbury Post that further advance and illuminate the story.

Emily Ford column

Sarah Hall Column

Emily Ford story

A story about the history of underwear art in Salisbury

My favorite line was the last of Sarah Hall’s:  “In this case, the finest art may be the art of forgiveness.”

This event comes just after a local production of Yasmina Reza’s play, Art, which is no accident.  This is a small town where the power of suggestion prevails like anywhere else.

Like the play, this incident has nothing to do with art.  It’s about, as Sarah says, the problem we human beings have with forgiveness — a simple act that looks so simple and feels so difficult.

In Reza’s play, a guy buys a work of art and gets into an argument.  The play is about the argument, not the art.

In Salisbury, a guy hangs out a pair of underwear and calls it art.  Somebody steals it.  The rest is about the dispute, not the art.

But Art gives the story a little glamor.  A bit of pizazz.

If forgiveness were as simple as it looks and sounds, then we would have no play.  And we would have no news story.  We would certainly not have a juicy trial to look forward to.

And we would have little if any art.

Whether it’s on the surface, or in some place too deep for words, conflict is the stuff of art.  We need it.  It stimulates our thinking and our emotions.  Otherwise — what have we got?  People going to work and being productive and getting along?  All hugs and kisses.  No slings and arrows?  Pleasantville?

Where’s the fun in that?

One could argue that we need art in order to examine our conflicts and be civilized beings.  It’s better than the real life alternative — acting on them.

Years ago, when somebody stole my bike, it wasn’t much of a story.

But stealing a pair of underwear art is just too rich.

Clyde's underwear marketing (thinking outside the boxers)

clyde's underwear
clyde's underwear

Artists need publicity.

It’s not easy to get the media interested, but the combination of art, underwear, conflict, and criminal charges seems to do the trick.

Salisbury Post Article

TV News Report

My blog about it

As I was driving down Council Street yesterday, in order to deliver my paper, Coffee News, to Wong’s Chinese Restaurant, I stopped and took a picture of the infamous underwear hanging in front of Clyde Overcash’s gallery (next door to Wong’s).

Originally, they hung on the side wall, in the alley.  With all the publicity, he’s moved them to the flagpole in front of the store.

We talked briefly and I was hoping to get a picture of him with the underwear (or maybe even a short video).

But we were interrupted.  I got a phone call.  He had to go wait on two customers who entered his store.

Is it possible the hanging underwear gave his business a bit of a boost?

Absolutely.  Whether it’s calculated or accidental — either way — the underwear stunt is a great example of effective marketing.

“Thinking outside the box” may be a cliché, but it’s a necessity for marketing any business.

When I was working on Coffee Therapy, a TV reporter contacted me, but whatever I said about the film did not seem to be enticing enough to attract a story.  Perhaps the film needed more underwear.

Clyde's underwear art

Pops at the Post Concert
Blurry picture I took of Clyde Overcash (L) and Gordon Hurley (R) at the Pops at the Post Concert (2009). I wish I had had a steadier hand.

The latest scandal in Salisbury, NC is a local news story about Clyde Overcash, an artist, who is pressing charges against Anne Caldwell Cave, the director of the Rowan Arts Council, because he hung a pair of underwear in front of his building and called it art — and she took it down.

This reminds me of a course I took in college.  It was a philosophy seminar called “The Philosophy of Art.”

Dr. Helm, our professor, was an extremely kind, elderly gentleman.  In fact, I thought he was pretty old.  A little research reveals that he was actually only four or five years older than I am now.

Here’s a bit about Dr. Helm and some photos.

Dr. Helm infuriated me with some of his ideas:

‘A well prepared meal is a work of art,’ he would say.  I couldn’t relate to this.  Most of my meals at the time came from slightly raunchy restaurants, or our absolutely raunchy kitchen in the house I shared with other students, or from the Wake Forest cafeteria, a.k.a. “The Pit.”

‘A soap opera episode, in some cases, can be a work of art,’ Dr. Helm would also say.

This also didn’t seem to make sense to me.  My soap opera experience was based on time I spent visiting my grandmother while she watched.  The story never seemed to go anywhere!

Of course these statements were meant to provoke discussion around the seminar table, and they did.

I don’t remember much content from a class that took place 32 years ago, but I remember the emotion quite well.  I was frustrated.  It was a seminar.  The others in the class were upper class philosophy majors and I wasn’t.  The other students were better at the lingo and referred to other philosophers.  I fancied myself a poet (a kind of artist) — and although I loved philosophy, I wasn’t much of a talker on the subject.  So I mostly just sat there, wanting to participate but too afraid, and listened.

But I do have my opinion about the underwear.  In my view, it depends on whose underwear it is.  If it’s a pair of my underwear, hanging from a tree in front of my house, then it’s just underwear.  I’m not that kind of artist.

Clyde Overcash, on the other hand, consistently produces visual art.  I own a number of his paintings.  His underwear, hanging in front of his gallery — is certainly a work of art.

It may stink, but it’s still a work of art.

The fact that someone in the art world assumes the role of art police and censors the work proves his point even further:  it’s a provocative work of art.

Maybe the whole thing is staged media hype — a publicity stunt for Salisbury artists.

In a phone call this evening, I reported the incident to my son (a painter and musician).  He likes to get the latest updates from Salisbury.

“That’s a juicy story,” he said.

When I told him I was blogging about it, he suggested I allude to Duchamp’s Fountain.

"Fountain," by Marcel Duchamp
"Fountain," by Marcel Duchamp

St. Thomas Players Production of Yasmina Reza's Art

for The Salisbury Post

Salisbury has always been a good theatre town. I know there’s a rich history dating back to the previous century. And I know I’ve missed a few in my time (almost five and a half decades).

But it seems like Salisbury theatre has made some strides in recent years that sets it apart.

We don’t just have a community theatre offering shows every two months on a fairly big stage to a fairly big house.

We’ve also got a full season at Catawba, one of the finer college theatre programs in the state, if not the country.

And we have smaller companies, and some professional actors who live and perform here, offering a rich menu of quality theatre on a frequent basis.

I’m pretty sure that’s not normal for a town this size. I’m pretty sure it’s remarkable.

Just two weeks ago, Joe Falocco — a consummate actor with a Salisbury address — presented Shakespeare’s Villains at Lee Street Theatre. It was delightful, smart, and incredibly funny.

A couple of weeks before that, St. Thomas Players gave us a thoroughly engaging production of Rabbit Hole.

Now, as it does each year, St. Thomas Players knocks out another summer with another one-two drama punch, following Rabbit Hole with an excellent production of Yasmina Reza’s Art, currently on view at Catawba’s Florence Busby Corriher Theatre.

The acting here is very, very good — but it doesn’t get in the way of a play that’s quite fascinating.

Near the end of Art, Yvan, the character who gets in the middle of his friend’s argument, sums up the play we’ve just seen when he says something close to this: ‘Nothing beautiful has ever been created as a result of rational argument.’

Good point, but the larger point is that while isolated statements in an argument can seem rational, the argument as a whole is absurd.

Just as arguments for isolated bits of a war can sometimes make sense, even though the war as a whole is absurd.

The war in Iraq began for one reason and continued on for a variety of entirely different reasons. Same for Afghanistan — and other conflicts between nations, races, municipalities, friends, people, families.

In the moment, there’s always somebody who can explain it like a champion. And then there’s always history, wherein the absurdity rises to the surface.

People still debate what really started the Cvil War.

This is the idea that gets distilled into Art, a very tight play that is not absurd, as a play, but instead is a play about absurdity.

We’re talking about a guy who attacks his friend for buying a painting that’s simply blank — white paint on a canvas.

It sets off a barrage of complicated, personal, hurtful argument, wherein the absurdity becomes as stark as the white painting that begins the ordeal.

As the play unfolds, the characters get heated about ideas, and the judgmentalism escalates. Sometimes it gets so complicated that I can’t follow the argument. I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about, but I know exactly what they’re saying and what they mean — and I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

This big mess doesn’t seem to challenge the actors. They don’t miss a beat as they whip through each other at a brisk pace. They’re exceptionally well prepared, and they seem to understand the nuance of each and every verbal dagger they throw.

Craig Kolkebeck directs the play and acts. He plays Serge, a dermatologist who buys a white painting and knows how to get under his friend’s skin.

Kolkebeck possesses the gift of naturalness. He’s always immersed in the play itself, never on a stage or aware of an audience.

I first heard about Art, the play, in the 90’s, over a glass of wine, from Bob Paolino, who had seen it in New York. We were talking about theatre and he said “I like Art.” This sounded like a weird thing to say, and I probably said something like “I do too.”

Bob straightened me out.

“The play, Art,” Bob said.

Soon after, I read it and discovered that I liked Art too. I’m glad I got a chance to see it, and I’m delighted I got to see Bob’s exuberant, winning performance in it. He plays Marc, the friend who instigates the argument when he notices that, like The Emperor Who Has no Clothes, the painting has no color.

One mustn’t play favorites with an ensemble cast of three that thoroughly clicks, but the manic moment of the evening obviously belongs to Anthony Liguori. He plays Yvan, the neurotic scapegoat, whose monologue about his wedding invitations provides the comic peak and is a sheer delight to watch. As long as it is (and it’s a long monologue), I’m sure everyone in the audience would have gladly granted him another five minutes.

The set is tasteful, white, and stark — and it’s also for sale. Upon leaving the theatre at the play’s conclusion the audience is invited to bid on the pieces in a silent auction.

This is a great show. I’m sure the army of volunteers involved in the production are proud of their work, and they should be.

A work of balloon art named in my honor

balloon art tennis player
Sammy, balloon art tennis player

When I was in Party Connection and saw this balloon art,  I told Melonie, the owner and creator of this work, that I had a soft spot in my heart for tennis.

In a former life (before age 35), I spent a large percentage of my time on the tennis court, playing and teaching.

She named it Sammy, in my honor, and emailed me a picture.