Tim Rollins & K.O.S.

Reflections & responses to the Talbot Rice Gallery/Artworks Scotland seminar, Aug 2012

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Visionary or Missionary?

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Photograph © Rachel Thibbotumunuwe /  Courtesy of Talbot Rice Gallery

By Lala Thorpe

The evangelical approach of Tim Rollins was the flavour of the day’s workshop – his preacher style delivery and the creation of a family of now grown boys to men with jobs..and still flourishing – what will happen to the next generation of K.O.S  – economic, political and social climates and attitudes have changed since the 80’s as well as the onset of technological advancement as we know it today…

I felt both privileged and as excited as a child to be part of a recent workshop for artists and educators, participating and talking to a long sung ‘hero’ of mine, Tim Rollins, the evangelical artist educator and arts pioneer from rural Maine.

Harking back to my heady days working in the commercial art world in New York in the early 90’s I was both inspired and driven by the ethos and risk taking ideology behind Tim’s work as an arts educator. It seemed to me that he was doing so much more than ‘teaching’, he was opening doors and influencing both the children and the art market with the work produced from the school group, K.O.S.

In a ‘tricky’ school in the South Bronx back in 1984 Tim accepted an invitation to stay on long term as art teacher. Working with selected children he put his energy into focusing on their talents as burgeoning artists and drew out and developed their confidence, using what is an insurmountable talent and passion in believing and valuing the children’s work and creating what he refers to as his ‘family’ or gang, the Kids of Survival (K.O.S). He fundamentally believed in the need to create an alternative school system one which was had a more dynamic, positive and educational outlook on the world by making art together with the K.O.S. What he coined as ‘the can do’ approach, this and he are clearly the driving force behind K.O.S.

Listening to Tim, the ‘boys’ Angel, Ric and Eric of K.O.S who were also presenting at the workshop, the process was the fundamental key in establishing a close working ethos within the group and they soon developed a framework and structure to work within, albeit flexible in terms of the final outcome.

Many questions arose during the day as Tim revealed his approach and deeply felt passion for what he phrased ‘making a difference and being part of something’– Tim extolled the many virtues of experimentation, flexible outcomes and allowing for a freedom of expression within the making and development of each art work.  Generating or encouraging ‘emotional success’ through developing relationships with teachers, parents, children and beyond is the mutual rewarding experience that Tim and his gang strive to achieve.

Perhaps most provocatively stating that they are providing a structure where ‘there is no room for failure’ – this arguably highlights the positive attitude that Tim carries through this extraordinary practice into the realm of an ordinary school day.  Tim is the visionary who saw the future in sharing practice and interpretation of literature, politics etc through making art. Tim, the Missionary, the messenger and teacher sharing the ideologies of many educational theorists who believed in the ‘conditions of play’ – a essential aspect of how best to make a career into a fun, explorative and improvisational exercise in making work…and selling it!

Lala Thorpe is an artist educator and Project Manager, working with schools, museums, galleries and arts organisations across London.


Written by Lala Thorpe

August 31, 2012 at 2:49 pm

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