Similarly, the use of animal—specifically lambs—blood in some of the Defoe works, but especially in those based on Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Antony is viewed by Deitcher as an association with the blood borne disease of AIDS. The essay somehow misses the religious connections of lamb’s blood. While contemporary art can often employ Christian symbols ironically, that is never the case with Rollins. It is the essay by Eleanor Heartney that takes up this nuance of Rollins and K.O.S.’s work.
Heartney is no stranger to contemporary mixtures of Christian imagery and high art. Her book Postmodern Heretics is an essential analysis of the topic. Her essay here considers the religious background of Tim, his return to the church in 1990s, and the overwhelmingly Catholic faith of the artists in K.O.S. While she does not detail the associations of blood to Old Testament sacrifices or Christ as the Lamb of God, Heartney does examine further works like the prints inspired by Haydn’s The Creation oratorio. She also suggests the that the triangles of the King works relate to the “mountaintop” that Dr. King mentions in the printed speech.
Heartney acknowledges associations to the religious in some of the most well known works of Rollins and K.O.S. Works based on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man exhibit an enormous IM across pages from the book. The letters evoke several things aside from the book’s title. Dr. King famously stated “I am a Man,” but the name/phrase “I AM” is also the name of the God of the Jews, as given to Moses. It is the complex readings that make the work intriguing.
The interview with Rollins and Berry seems to fill in the remaining pieces of the book and provides a sense of the artist’s personality. Throughout the pages are lush examples of the collaborative works—many that are not even covered in the essays. Additionally, the authors do not hesitate to bring up the controversies that have swirled around Rollins and K.O.S. over the years. Is the work really Tim’s alone and the “Kids” just a tool to receive artworld attention? Why is Tim using traditional western masterworks as the basis for the work? Isn’t that a bit WASPy considering these kids are from the Bronx? Is Tim not just pushing his own political or religious agenda? All of these and more are firmly countered by the authors. The work stands on its own. Its strength lies in the resiliency of the artists who made it.
This book is not for art enthusiasts alone. The story of Tim and K.O.S offers inspiration for teachers of all subjects. The history of this collaboration gives hope to the hopeless and that is a rare thing in this day and age.
Tim Rollins and K.O.S.: A History, Ian Berry, ed., MIT Press