Advertisement

Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Maureen Paley, London, UK

Painting on book pages has been the trademark technique of Tim Rollins and K.O.S. since they started working together in the early 1980s. Rollins, then a young teacher in an underprivileged South Bronx neighbourhood, started an after-school art group for kids. Over three decades, many of the 100 or so self-proclaimed ‘Kids of Survival’ have come and gone, but a core group, now adults, still works with Rollins, who was also one of the co-founders of the activist art collective Group Material in 1979.

The six works on show at Maureen Paley incorporate pages from texts including the Brothers Grimm’s ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ (1812) and Franz Schubert’s score for ‘Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel’ (1814), a parable for our debt-ridden times in which a young girl learns the cost of promising to spin straw into gold. On two canvases papered with pages from George Orwell’s allegory Animal Farm (1945) and covered with a white acrylic wash, the artists have painted black watercolour images of chimeras that combine the body of bats with the heads of Vladimir Putin and of Kim Jong-un (Animal Farm – Putin [after Orwell] and Animal Farm – Kim Jong-un [after Orwell], all works 2017). These are the latest in a series of caricatures of political leaders started in the late 1980s – it’s worth looking them up to see on-the-nose renditions of Ronald Reagan as a turtle and Margaret Thatcher as a goose. The early works now feel gently satirizing, reminiscent of 19th-century French caricaturist Honoré Daumier’s bubble-headed politicians. By contrast, the contemporary atmosphere of geopolitical terror makes the new paintings feel more disturbing than amusing.

web_mp-k.o.t-00078-a-300.jpg

Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Animal Farm - Putin (after Orwell), 2017, acrylic and watercolour on book pages on linen, 66 x 51 cm. Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London, © Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Animal Farm - Putin (after Orwell), 2017, acrylic and watercolour on book pages on linen, 66 x 51 cm. Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London, © Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

In Dracula – Jonathan Harker’s Journal (after Bram Stoker) – a triptych of pages from Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, which hangs between the Kim and Putin works – the paper’s surface is afflicted by a curious deposit, as though gusting winds have formed a drift of white powder pigment down the middle of the page, rendering the centre of the text all but unreadable. The analogy set up between Putin or Kim and Dracula seems plausible: both leaders are perceived as predatory demagogues who suck the lifeblood out of their people, what Harker refers to as ‘monsters’ in the book. But it also confronts us with a glaring absence in the trilogy of bad news figures: Donald Trump.

In Stoker’s novel, Dracula and his vampires infect innocent victims, leaving them undead and compelling them to pass on their monstrous affliction. His story harbours the notion that Dracula was himself once an innocent human and still has the capacity for human emotions. Showing Kim and Putin in a state of becoming animal seems to absolve them from absolute responsibility for their human misdemeanours. Depicted thus, can they be wholly to blame for their actions, or are they the victims of some ideological disease? Like Dracula and his victims, the Kim and Putin bat figures are somehow undead, or ‘undecidable’, to use the term preferred by philosopher Jacques Derrida, who was inspired by zombies and monsters.

web_mp-k.o.t-2017-g-300.jpg

Tim Rollins and K.O.S., left: Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel (after Schubert), 2017, black ink, acrylic on music score page on linen, 61 x 66 cm; right: Rumpelstiltskin (after Brothers Grimm), 2017, gold ink, acrylic on book pages on linen, 61 x 66 cm. Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London, © Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Tim Rollins and K.O.S., left: Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel (after Schubert), 2017, black ink, acrylic on music score page on linen, 61 x 66 cm; right: Rumpelstiltskin (after Brothers Grimm), 2017, gold ink, acrylic on book pages on linen, 61 x 66 cm. Courtesy: Maureen Paley, London, © Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Art made by collectives tends to raise the questions: Whose idea was it? Who did what? How did they do it? By incorporating literature and music into their works, Rollins and K.O.S. make a powerful argument that education is a promising route out of darkness and that the stories and ideas of the past can help us better understand the present. But their greatest work is the community that grew out of an extra-curricular activity and into what the artists describe as a ‘familial relationship’. It is a shortcoming of contemporary art exhibitions that such relationships are barely discernible in the show itself: this is the unfortunate disparity between ‘work’ as a verb and as a noun.

Main image: Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Animal Farm - Kim Jong-Un (after Orwell), 2017, acrylic and watercolor on book pages on linen, 51 x 66 cm, installation view, Maureen Paley, London. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London, © Tim Rollins and K.O.S.

Ellen Mara De Wachter is a writer based in London, UK. Her book Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration is published by Phaidon (2017).

Issue 192

First published in Issue 192

January - February 2018
Advertisement

Most Read

With authors, curators and musicians recently denied entry, the UK is fast painting itself as a cultural pariah
Why does the ‘men’s rights’ guru to the alt-right surround himself with Soviet-era memorabilia, which he doesn’t even...
Alongside a centuries-old collection of Old Masters, Delftware and Chinoiserie, the Devonshires continue to commission...
In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018