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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes being best can be the worst. The prized antlers the wapiti so lovingly drapes with velvet and nourishes with aspen shoots can turn their caretakers into rumpus room decor, even though deerstalkers know perfectly well they could just wait for the elk to finish bugling its mates before picking up the discarded instruments for a song.