Tim Rollins's Right Side of History
Working and partying with Tim Rollins was always a mixture of art, teaching, high energy gospel preaching and philosophizing over a drink at a local bar. He loved melding art and literature into works that had a wry wit and topicality. He did his damnedest to make them work together, succeeding on a national and global scale. I asked him, “What’s your secret?”
“Know what you want and keep talking about it until somehow it happens,” he replied with his usual charming boyish self-confidence.
Tim was the most unique combination of committed creative forces I’ve ever met. Over the almost thirty years I knew him we had several highly opinionated debates regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict; always ending with a couple more rounds of drinks at a Chelsea bar. I respected his opinion and I believe he respected mine.
The sincere effort Tim made in 2004 to help me produce my film, “Before You Don’t Vote” is my strongest loving memory of him. He invited my crew and me to the Baptist Memorial Church in Harlem, where he was a deacon and lead chorister, for a Sunday service with the full Gospel choir and musicians. After this deeply felt religious spectacle we were invited to the church parishioners’ lavish fried chicken and salad lunch. Tim had told the late and much loved Reverend Preston Washington what we were doing there. On Sunday an area was set up for us to interview some of Harlem’s elite about their current thoughts and feelings on the state of voting in America. Without them our film would be bereft of people of color. Reverend Washington was the first to sit for my questions. He was also the most persuasive.
More than anything Tim wanted to be on the right side of history—the side that brings people up, the side that makes people more equal—the side that has fun doing it. His promise to himself that the world can be changed for good, with other people in agreement is the model and legacy I believe he leaves behind. I would be happy to live up to his standards just some of the time.