Gold Alice I
1984 -
Gilded enamel and paper on canvas
Dimensions: 182,5 x 317 cm
Reference: ACF0448
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This large-format painting is based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Despite the many interpretations that can be made of the narrative, the blurred border between reality and fantasy is the most characteristic feature of the text. The story of Alice offers an opportunity to immerse oneself in a fantasy world. That opportunity may be compared to being immersed in a representation, which matches a desire constantly expressed by Kids of Survival: to adjust representation of the world around us to our own point of view. Richie Cruz of K.O.S. says: ‘I guess art is one of the only ways we can show our point of view, about how we see the world. We don’t own a TV station, but we can get a painting together.’ The character of Alice is just the kind that crosses the border and is included in the representation. Alice could well be taken as a model to illustrate how the social conditions of K.O.S. members are represented in their own works. Although the painting does not enable us to reconstruct the dialogue that might have taken place while it was being made in the studio, which is also Tim Rollins and K.O.S.’s school, we may suppose that the young pupils that painted it also established a significant relationship with Lewis Carroll’s little girl. At the age of twelve, Annette Rosado, another student at the workshop, saw in Alice a girl angry about the abuse suffered by other girls. So much so that after painting Red Alice from the same series, she created this character ‘who is capable of leaping out of the painting to fight.’ The ability to be inside and outside the picture—both the object of representation and the subject that makes it or looks at it—is among the outstanding achievements of modern painting. In the same way, the young artists of K.O.S. are included in their works through emblematic figures taken from narratives and myths. Working on books like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage has served as a way of overcoming humiliation and social stigmatisation while building a sense of pride and public identity. The surface of Gold Alice I is almost entirely covered by gilded pages, except for a narrow border around the canvas that enables us to see the lower layer, covered in turn by pages from Alice in Wonderland. The partial concealment of the text produces a monochrome effect. In a way, the richness of the narrative is reduced to a dense yet simple presentation, though without disguising the fact that behind the appearance of a modern painting there is something that requires a different perception. If the monochrome invites us to look without entering into details, the text requires a leisurely reading. The clash of those two modes of perception finds its hierarchy in the eminently visual impression of the colour and light given off by the gilt coating. Appearance is one thing and content is another. Everything that has made the work possible, namely the reading and discussion, is obscured by the result of the painting. The painting works as an allegory. The image we see merely masks another. That way of interpreting it suggests that Tim Rollins and K.O.S.’s paintings appeal primarily to the eye. Nevertheless, some critics have criticised the work for looking too beautiful, placid and formalist. Rollins has responded by saying that such accusations only serve to confine the artists to a world of social violence. The critics argue that the injustice represented by K.O.S. should be aesthetically conveyed through politically incorrect images. For that reason, the pursuit of beauty through a collective work process is a key aspect of the project for Tim Rollins and K.O.S. By taking this approach they establish a genuine difference with other forms of political art in which the repudiation of formalism is a marker of politicisation. In Gold Alice I there are things to be seen and things that are not to be seen, but read. In fact, among the things not to be seen is an enlargement of Alice that was painted on the canvas and then covered by the pages of the book, which in turn were coated with the gilt pages. That Alice, the one who is there but cannot be seen, has been trapped in the very genesis of the painting.

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