Tim Rollins (b. 1955, Pittsfield, ME; d. 2017, New York, NY) began his career teaching art for special education middle school students in a South Bronx public school. In 1984, he launched the Art and Knowledge Workshop, an afterschool program for his most dedicated students, who named themselves Kids of Survival (K.O.S.). While many of the original K.O.S. members are actively involved in the collaboration today, Rollins intended for flexibility within the group to allow for new generations of members. Rollins’ pedagogical technique of reading and discussing literary texts as the inspiration for his students’ artwork continues to be the basis on which the group makes their collaborative work. Rollins and K.O.S. often paint and draw directly on the pages of books or sheet music that they adhere in a grid to the surface of the canvas. They have used numerous works as source materials, including literary classics by William Shakespeare, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Twain, and musical compositions by Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss. For their 2013 show with Lehmann Maupin, the group exhibited Darkwater, using the pages of a 1920 first-edition copy of W.E.B. Dubois’ eponymous autobiographical collection of essays and short stories that confronted issues of race, class, and gender. Rollins and K.O.S. dipped 24 pages from the book in a solution of black watercolor paint, rendering the bottom half of every page illegible. The Darkwater series was made in collaboration with junior high school students in Savannah, Georgia, during a week-long workshop. Just as he had done with the original Kids of Survival, Rollins encouraged the students to engage with some of the very complex issues discussed in Dubois’ book through the process of art making, demonstrating the collective’s continued dedication to collaboration, social engagement, and education.
Rollins studied fine art at the University of Maine and earned a BFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. Solo exhibitions of the group’s work have been organized at the Portland Museum of Art, ME (2016); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2014); Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel (2012); Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, Italy (2011); the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA (2010); Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, PA (2010); Museum of Contemporary Art, Atlanta, GA (2006); The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach, VA (2005); the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2002); and the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA (2001). Select group exhibitions featuring the work of Rollins and K.O.S. include Black and Blue, Pulitzer Foundation, St. Louis, MO (2017); Fast Forward: Painting from the 1980s, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2017); Nightfall, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (2016-2017); Beyond the Veil: Works from the Permanent Collection, Bronx Museum, New York (2016); An Inclusive World, Queens Museum, New York (2015); Drawing Biennial 2015, Drawing Room, London (2015); Body Language, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2013); This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, IL (2012); Wide Open School, Hayward Gallery, London (2012); and the Whitney Biennial, New York (2006). The group’s work is in numerous international public and private collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Tate Modern, London; Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Aspen Art Museum, CO; Berkeley Art Museum, University of California Berkeley; The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA; Dia Art Foundation, New York; The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia; and Dallas Museum of Art, TX.
In 1997, the documentary, Kids of Survival: The Art and Life of Tim Rollins and K.O.S. was widely received at the London Film Festival; Cinéma du Réel, France; and the Hamptons International Film Festival, New York.