“Today, we make history!”
As a twelve year old, I did not quite grasp the gravity of that declaration, but Tim said it so often that it was burned into my consciousness. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to making history. The group became a family. The artwork became an autobiographical photo album of the intense connections made through these pursuits, and Tim made me believe that I can and must be an agent for change.
Tim Rollins was a maverick. He used art and knowledge as a weapon to fight stigma and change the world for those of us who had yet to learn they had such potential. On the very first day of class, the first time I met Tim as my 7th grade art teacher at Intermediate School 52 where K.O.S. was born, he had the audacity to administer a fifty question, multiple choice test. It included questions such as “Which one of these artists is not a Cubist?” and “What year was the first Surrealist Manifesto written?” The entire class voiced its frustration. I didn’t know any of the answers yet was intrigued not knowing exactly what Tim’s intentions were. After we finished, Tim collected the tests and acknowledged that we most likely didn’t do well, but assured us that this would be the exact mid-term test. These were the subjects we were about to learn and he guaranteed that we would all get A’s. Because of his unorthodox methodology, he managed to capture my imagination immediately. A few months later I joined K.O.S. In his pursuit of excellence, he was never condescending. Anyone that worked with Tim was made to believe that they could be the key component of making museum quality work.
And so, I’ve been asking the forty-three year old me several questions during the last few weeks since Timmy’s passing. What does one do when your best friend, mentor, and surrogate father passes? When as a result, a suffocating void the size of the Grand Canyon takes root in your heart and spirit. When that person who you could count on for advice, laughter, a sounding board is no longer there. I don’t know the answers to these questions and probably never will. I do know that keeping Tim’s legacy alive is of the utmost importance and I will exert every effort to that end for the rest of my days. I also take some solace in the thought that somewhere in heaven Tim is teaching a master class using the same tools of subversion that made this earth better for all that knew him as well as those that did not.
Angel Abreu is a member of K.O.S. and is on the faculty at the School of Visual Arts.