MONKEY BUSINESS

Byline: Daniel Peres

NEW YORK--"I'm kind of mentally ill," says Donald "Roller" Wilson, immediately after introducing himself. "I've been that way since birth."
Roller's unique brand of art is a testament to that, and for those who collect him--Jack Nicholson, Elizabeth Taylor, Aaron Spelling, Harrison Ford, Paul Simon and Bill Clinton, to name a few--it's a virtually hallucinogenic journey into the unknown.
"[Roller] conjures up an image of an evangelical preacher with his own circus side show," writes Robin Williams in the forward to "A Strong Night Wind," a recently published collection of Wilson's paintings and musings.
Is this accurate?
"I suppose it is," says Roller after a long pause. "For one thing, the work is unique in that I juxtapose highly unlikely items--a common kind of cheap things. Even though that's the case, there's a certain elegance about the work."
His mixture of cigarette butts, matches, olives and pickles--often orbiting a chimpanzee named Cookie--has attracted a lot of attention in Hollywood.
"The people who understand my work the quickest are the actors, crazies and drag queens."
He recently received a commission from Roseanne and proudly adds that there's a waiting list "a mile long" for an original painting.
"My work is blatantly funny, sexually funny and exploits things on the surface that we hold dear--like religion. Creative people, like actors, see themselves in it sometimes."
While he doesn't include her in every painting, Cookie's image has become a trademark for Roller.
"There's no special power for me in using the monkey over, let's say, a dog or cat," he says. "But there's something exciting about not using people. My work might be passed over if I used people."
Roller admits he's a recluse and that he doesn't interact much with other people, except over the telephone from his house in Fayetteville, Ark.
"I've don't care to be around people, especially in a corporate way where you have to collaborate with them," he says. "When people work together, they fall short of what you can do alone. The results of their efforts get watered down. People are afraid to call a spade a spade. I could never stand the mediocrity that comes from people working together."

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