After studying at the School of Visual Arts in New York (1975–7) and at New York University (1977 and 1979), in 1980 Rollins (b. Pittsfield, ME, 1955) co-founded Group Material, a collaboration of artists mounting exhibitions with social themes. The collaboration that followed in the early 1980s with K.O.S. emerged out of teaching at after-school workshops in the South Bronx district of New York. Drawing together teenagers with artistic ability, but with various problems Rollins set up the project at a local community centre. Initially their work was influenced by the contemporary graffiti art movement, but soon it began to reflect a collision of interests from art history and mass culture. Rollins led the students to develop work out of critical engagement with texts, often classics of western literature. The work of drawing and painting the images that evolved from those discussions was apportioned to different members of the group; the first task was to cover the canvas with pages from the source text, laid out in grid formation. They tackled such literature as Franz Kafka's Amerika, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, George Orwell's Animal Farm and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Obliterating much of the text with suggestive and enigmatic motifs, often in gold paint, and rejecting the usual conventions of illustration, they produced poetic and visually sumptuous objects in response to their sources. Their mixture of mass culture, literature and politics made their work a significant presence in the return to painting in the early 1980s.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (exh. cat., essays J. Fisher and M. Daniel, London, Riverside Studios, 1988)
Amerika: Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (exh. cat., essay G. Garrels, New York, Dia A. Found., 1989)
Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: Animal Farm (exh. cat., Washington, DC, Hirshhorn, 1992)
10 December 2000