New York

Tim Rollins + K.O.S

Jay Gorney Modern Art

Tim Rollins + K.O.S. utilize books for their ideas, as well as for the material substance of their work. Their art is produced at the Art and Knowledge Workshop in the South Bronx, where Rollins and his students/ collaborators discuss major works of Western literature. After a lengthy analysis, they synthesize a story’s theme and produce an effective visual equivalent for it. In past works, Franz Kafka’s Amerika has been distilled in the image of a golden horn, the pages of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick have been white-washed, and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage has been represented by a festering wound. More recently, they have begun to explore the medium of collage and assemblage. One such work, on display here, is The Metamorphosis, 1988–89. Here, the pages of Franz Kafka’s tale are laid out upon a grid. An apple rests in a niche that has been cut into the picture’s surface. With time, the apple withers, its shape, size, and color changing gradually. Once the decaying process ceases, the apple is replaced by another, and the transformational process begins again.

In The Metamorphosis, one of this group’s most sophisticated works to date, the apple’s transformation viscerally recreates the metamorphosis of the story’s protagonist into an insect. The choice of an actual object transcends resemblance in order to reenact the process described in the story. Tim Rollins + K.O.S. ingeniously embellish a purely metaphoric translation with one that actively participates in the real. Beyond being a metaphor for the protagonist and his transformation, the apple is also a rich metaphor in its own right.

Regardless of their choice of literature or how they decide to transform texts into single images, the artists’ oeuvre is unified by the premise of illustration. To illustrate is to clarify, embellish, or to set off. It is an intellectual operation motivated by contemplation. In a Tim Rollins + K.O.S. project, illustration suggests an active involvement in translating the ideas and social limitations of one modality (text) into another (image). A project built upon this premise is always constrained by the primary text. Their works function as interpretations, restricted by the text’s own form, content, and narrative structure. Yet within this framework, they produce highly imaginative, open-ended work. The group’s graphic distillations direct rather than describe. In this way, they do not offer decisive explanations, but propose one of several possible interpretations. Tim Rollins + K.O.S. liberate the mode of illustration by handling its translative, dependent properties with considerable inventiveness.

Kirby Gookin