I met Tim Rollins early on in the 1980’s when I was still in college. I was a huge admirer of Group Material as a student, and when I was invited to become a member, I felt I was where I belonged.
We would often talk after GM meetings or the many other assemblies of artists working for social change in those days. Every exchange we had was consequential, transforming. What inspired me most was the emancipatory convictions and emotional energy that Tim carried into any conversation about what art can do: that it could be deliberately contradictory; that it always changed the conditions of its producers and its witnesses; that when beautiful, it would steal time back from the managers of our labor.
But for Tim, it was always about the work. He was insistent that the talk was only as good as the action it produced. He was a scholar who put ideas to work. His faith and art were embodiments of the thinkers he admired—from Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bertolt Brecht, John Dewey, Paulo Freire, to Raymond Williams: living spirits that continue to show us the reverberations between inner and outer life. In the different colors of this light, Tim could always see how visual form presents the struggle of others as a kind of insistence—how form changes a proposition into a living thing that can be felt. In this sense, he also inspired me to teach kids in the public schools because he knew no one makes art alone; that whatever edifice we build in collaboration with others, can last. His work is a testament to the ineluctable mystery of how we live together.
Doug Ashford is an artist and a member of Group Material.