On my other blog (Artfully Learning), I relate contemporary and art historical concepts, movements, and artists to key educational theories. One of the main reasons for my lack of updates on this blog is the fact that I have been working towards my certification in Art Education. I started Artfully Learning to synthesize my practice as an art educator with my background working in the fine art world. This is why the passing of Tim Rollins had such a profound impact on me, and I felt compelled to respond as both an emerging educator and a seasoned art historian and curator. This post is a general response to Rollins’ work as a collaborator with the artist activist collective Group Material (1979) and the collective he formed with students from the South Bronx called Kids of Survival (K.O.S) (1984). I won’t focus as much time on his pedagogy and how his work can be implemented into any art educational curriculum. For that aspect, you can read my reflections on ‘what we can learn from Tim Rollins,’ which I published yesterday morning on Artfully Learning.
Tim Rollins was an enigmatic individual within the New York City art scene of the 1980s. He grew up far from city life in rural Maine and was a devout Catholic. The fact that he was deeply religious, as well as politically engaged (he taught at the New York Marxist school for a year), and a member of the LGBT community, was quite unique and even seems somewhat absurd in the context of how we typically view the art world today. While political artists during the Postmodern era appropriated religious iconography, they often implemented it as a form of irony or burlesque satire. For Tim, and many of his collaborators in K.O.S, the religious connections between subject and visual imagery was taken with the upmost sincerity. Cultural critic Eleanor Heartney, mentioned how the spiritual faith of Rollins and K.O.S was reflected in many of their works. For example their series of paintings based on the book Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison depict the large letters IM overlapping pages from the book. I and M have several connotations, the most obvious being that it is the initials for the title of Ellison’s novel, but more importantly, as Heartney pointed out, IM references both the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who stated “I am a Man,” and the phrase “I AM,” which was the name g-d gave to Moses and the Jewish people. The books and texts that inspired Rollins and K.O.S were astutely and thoroughly interpreted with each member of the collaboration lending their insight to the final project. Therefore, the work of Rollins and K.O.S. is very much open ended and up for interpretation and discussion.