Unless Governor Rick Perry changes his mind and either issues a stay or commutes the sentence, 32-year-old Khristian Oliver, will be executed by the State of Texas sometime this evening. Maybe by the time you read this.
Oliver was convicted of the 1998 murder of Joe Collins who interrupted Oliver and three others who were robbing Collins' house. He is the son of artist Kermit Oliver.
Biblical themes have long been the domain of Khristian's father, Kermit Oliver, a well-known painter and the first African-American artist represented by a major Houston gallery.
Kermit often used his family as models in his allegorical paintings: His fans recognize his wife, Katie, who is also a painter, and their three children. Khristian, the youngest, is the blond one, the boy who looks white, lighter-skinned even than his light-skinned parents. Not long after his birth, he was the central figure in Young Mitras in Gown Designed for His Presentation to the Temple.
The trial of Khristian Oliver was notable because the jury asked for and received five Bibles for them to review and decided to convict based on their interpretation of verses like Numbers 35:19.
Lisa Gray writes in the Houston Chronicle:
In his 10 years on death row, Khristian earned a paralegal degree. He illustrated books for his daughter. And he began reading the classics that his father loves: the works of Plato, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Significantly, the once rebellious son of painters began to paint, working with the cheap watercolor sets available in prison. On visits, his parents would give him “challenges” to sharpen his skills.
Alvia Wardlaw, who curated Kermit Oliver's 2005 retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, says that as Khristian developed as a painter his works filled with color and light. Like Kermit, he began to paint the allegories.
Supporters have sent letters to Gov. Rick Perry pleading for a stay of execution — time to run DNA tests on the rifle — or that his sentence be changed to life in prison.
On Wednesday, Houston friends of the family were considering where they could gather to wait for tonight's news. One possibility was Trinity Episcopal Church's Morrow Chapel, where the altarpiece is a painting Kermit made a few years after Khristian's trial. Resurrection is one of his most powerful works.
In the painting, a risen Christ faces the viewer. His head is wreathed in lilies; burial cloths float around him. Behind him is an apocalyptic-looking orange cloud: something horrible, but something past.
In a statement for the church, Kermit spent four pages explaining the painting's dense symbolism, its visual representations of rebirth, of triumph over death, of Original Sin atoned for, of fallen mankind redeemed.
But the statement didn't mention the most striking symbol: As the model for Christ, Kermit used Khristian.