The spindly stalks creep out from the nexus of the composition like arachnid extremities. The pronounced compression of space pushes the roughly hewn roots into the forefront for the beholder’s contemplation. The sharp points and scraggly edges of the root system prevent easy entrance into the scene. Oller creates a kind of coconut Noli me tangere: we may look, but not touch.
We talked about light and dark, how to render it in paintings and drawings, and how it connects to spirit. We talked about Emerson and Thoreau. They connected their faiths to mine, to the pantheism I developed out there in the woods, and to art as faith. As I worked with artists in prison over the next couple of decades, I continued to see this transcendental connection to light and dark through their eyes.
At sixteen, life is supposed to be safe. Things are supposed to be beginning. We are supposed to be weaning from the care and guidance of people who have raised us. We are supposed to be on the brink of our adult lives. We should be taking the reins and figuring out how to care for ourselves, and we should have our most basic needs met so that we can care for others. It’s a volatile, dizzying, restless age. It is not always sweet.
Pinball takes place in a more liminal environment: those may be your physical fingers hitting flipper buttons and your real voice cussing out Bride of Pin-Bot, but your vision, your concentration—everything about you that’s more consciousness than body—moves outside of yourself and behind a thin layer of glass.
I’d bicycle home after teaching, pumping the pedals so hard I hoped the blurred street would crack beneath them. I’d learned early how to leap—from hotel maid to fine dining server, student to teacher, dying desert town to rain-drenched city. So I left. I filled out applications, fielded phone interviews, signed a contract and flew to Hanoi, sight unseen.
The first skin I tattooed was orange peel. Supposedly the texture is similar to humans. I bought a kilo of oranges to practice on before you agreed. You came down for the weekend, watched as I tested the weight of the needle in the nook of my hand. When I cut into the first orange, there was no thread of blood – just juice.
On the day I was born, the air was a supple stew—heavy with overripe fruit and armpits, ocean salt, and slow-roasted goat meat. Of course, I don’t remember that day, but I was born in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam—just ‘Dar’ to the locals—and the viscosity of the air is the first thing that visitors remark on. It is what they remember most.