of hell. Eight hours in the studio alone doing your thing. The studio
can be a lonely place,” says Tim Rollins. The internationally known
artist prefers an atmosphere “filled with kids, moms coming by, people
bringing their dogs, total pandemonium,” and feeds off the incredible
energy of a collective experience.
Rollins, who lives in New York City, has
been pursuing an unusual blend of artistry and community outreach since
the 1980s. In February, he and members of the collaborative group KOS
(Kids of Survival) came to Syracuse from the Bronx to work with
students from two Syracuse high schools, Fowler and Nottingham.
Together they created multimedia artworks on two themes: The Red Badge of Courage by Syracuse University alum Stephen Crane and the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Purple hearts: Students from Fowler and
Nottingham high schools express their feelings about The Red Badge of
Courage by “painting their wound.” The abstractions are then cut out
and glued directly to pages of the Stephen Crane novel.
Volunteers from the schools came to SU’s
Warehouse Gallery to collaborate directly on the several works now on
display there in an exhibit called King and Courage. Rollins
gave a short initiation—reading aloud from the texts and showing video
clips from director John Huston’s 1951 film version of The Red Badge of Courage
and footage of King—then led a lively discussion encouraging personal
responses. This gave students a strong focus to channel their feelings
and interpretations into artistic expression.
King’s “Mountaintop” sermon inspired one
of the works. Sweeping across history from the pyramids, to Mount
Olympus, to the modern-day struggle for equal rights, King reminded us
to keep faith in progress even if it seems unbelievably slow. It was in
this speech that he admitted, “I may not get there with you. But I want
you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised
With this impassioned voice echoing in
their mind, Rollins asked the students “What is the color of your
hope?” Basic computer software allowed a pyramid of that color to be
superimposed on a typed page of the speech. In moments the composite
image was projected onto the full height of the gallery wall. The
finished work consists of a slide show cycling through each student’s
The teen hero of The Red Badge of Courage
defines himself in the face of fear and mortal danger during the Civil
War. He flees his first battle. Skulking around behind the lines of the
battlefield, he gets wounded. But his real pain comes from guilt and
shame. The wound hardens his resolve to become a courageous soldier.
Rollins got student collaborators to
take the story personally, asking them to “paint their wound.” The
resulting abstractions were cut out, applied to pages from Crane’s book
and mounted on the wall in a grid. Rollins wants students to take
ownership of the ideas, not just appreciate them. Rollins establishes a
context, a framework for the students to work within and “a structure
where there really can’t be failure,” he explained. The combination of
yesterday’s genius with the raw creative energy of tomorrow is a
It would be missing the point to marvel
at Rollins’ methods at teaching the kids. The work they create teaches
equally important lessons to those who see it: First, the ideas of the
past remain alive because of new interpretations; second, it is not
just the opinions of scholars and critics that matter; and third, in a
community that works together, the sum is worth much more than the
Tim Rollins and KOS: King and Courage
continues through April 5. The Warehouse Gallery, 350 W. Fayette St.,
is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays, noon to 6
p.m. For more information, call 443-6450.