Archives for posts with tag: Kay Rosen

During our conversation for The Rail about her current exhibition, Kay and I swerved onto the topic of art as activism.

Kay has used her artwork as a platform for advocacy for decades. In the current collection, Kay pointed to Trickle Down (2015) being a sharp criticism of the erroneous economic theory.

I brought up a few personal favorites, including a piece outside of the collection, “I Owe You” (2007).

“I Owe You” (2007) colored pencil on paper by Kay Rosen


Kay brightened and mentioned that she revived this work for a retrospective of her letterpress work for the Barbara Krakow Gallery, Kay Rosen: The Complete Letterpress Works, 1984-2017.

Originally, Kay created “I Owe You” to express resistance to the Energy Transfer Partners’ efforts to build the Dakota Access Pipeline less than one mile from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Standing Rock really got to me,” she said. “Mistreatment of Native Americans goes back so far, and it is ongoing with other tribes.”

We marveled at the coincidence that IOU is in the middle of Sioux.

“Right in the heart of the word!” Kay exclaimed. “It is so amazing to me when this happens,” she continued. “The message is embedded in the name.”

‘“IOU’ is a found textual treasure,” she noted in the work’s description for her letterpress exhibition, which “required minor adjustments to color to address major historical wrongs.”

The message of the piece, Kay wrote was “both a promise and an apology to that tribe, and by extension, to the many other indigenous peoples whose rights and treaties have been trampled over the years.”

“I would love to do it large, billboard-size,” she told me, her hands outstretched. “This is a work that I would still like to get out in the world, as a message,” Kay said.

Me too.



Kay Rosen Head Over Heels

Kay Rosen, Head Over Heels, 2016 Latex paint on wall, 16×16 feet

I’ve gushed before. And Kay Rosen has me swooning, again, in my review of her solo exhibition, H Is for House, for The Brooklyn Rail (June, 2017).

My title, Head Over Heels, references the wall painting in the atrium of The Aldrich and pretty much sums up my ArtSeen review (rave); but a piece I can’t stop thinking about is Pivot.

Kay Rosen Pivot

Kay Rosen, Pivot, 2015, Acrylic gouache on paper, 22 ½ x 15 inches

In Pivot (2015), the two parallel lines act out the word and its meaning—and, in a sense, becomes anthropomorphic. Back to back, the letterforms stand upright on Ts for legs and Ps for heads, facing away from one another.

I read between these lines, and an idea begins to form.

That V in PIVOT is a pelvis.

This brings to mind a recent review (rag) I’d read about a different female artist, in another text-based medium, the memoir, being derided for using the body—her body—as subject matter. Usually, I find the “navel-gazing” critique to be more revealing of the critic than the artist, a telling affirmation of the systemic discrimination of female creation.

Here, where a V can be a pelvis–rendered as gender neutral but nonetheless home of the navel, the origin story of us all–I am encouraged to continue championing the notion that the body, one’s own female body especially, is a worthy subject for art to be expressed in whatever form, visual, written et al.

This kind of thinking is to be expected in a house built by Kay Rosen. For over 40 years, Kay has explored, as a trained linguist and now a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, the visual potential of language—particularly letterforms—to be the building blocks of art that challenge contemporary culture’s perception of words.

Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director for The Aldrich, connects Rosen’s work to a 16th century French humanist and engraver, Geofroy Tory, who put forward the idea in Champ Fluery that capital Roman letterforms are based upon proportions of the human body.

In a world where the very letterforms, themselves, are inspired by the human form, sneering at artists using the body–her body, a body, any body–becomes baseless.

“Artists use language in so many different ways,” Kay says to me during our interview for the Rail. “But I can’t think of any two people that use language the same way.” She pauses. “Can you?”

No. And may they inspire a broadened view of how we see art of the body–and review it.

Kay Rosen’s H Is for House is currently showing at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum through September 4, 2017.

Living in the Chelsea Gallery District, I frequently walk through the West 20s. Rarely does an exhibition stop me in my tracks to the gym or the Highline or to see the wisteria tree in bloom on 21st. Yet, Kay Rosen pulled me in off the street.

Now through June 28, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is exhibiting BLINGO, Rosen’s visual challenge to “the way that we read and understand language.”

Kay Rosen "Monuments"

Kay Rosen “Monuments”

Initially, it was Monuments, the floor-to-ceiling wall painting, that piqued my interest. The word “obelisk” intersects vertically with “odalisk” (meaning a female slave in a harem) stretching horizontally. The balanced, interdependent composition equalizes the words, as Rosen explains:

“Vertical does not trump horizontal; nor upright, prostrate. Male does not trump female. Sculpture does not trump painting. The representation of both ODALISKS and OBELISKS throughout the history of art is equally iconic and illustrious. Any perceived hierarchy is supplied by the viewer.”

Her combination of graphic design, word play, and cultural critique is just how I like my art. As I ventured further into the gallery, I was delighted by Echo and LOL—as “visual representations of vocal concepts.”

Kay Rosen "Echo"

Kay Rosen “Echo”

Kay Rosen "LOL"

Kay Rosen “LOL”

Echo blew my mind. I gawked at how Rosen had collocated the word ECHO “to reflect itself horizontally and vertically four times over, creating a graphic reverberation.”

I did laugh out loud at LOL, enjoying how “the A’s are lifted off the baseline, so that HA HA HA HA HA looks like it is moving up and down and shaking and laughing.”



Staring at Backtrack, I pondered if there had ever been a more accurate portrayal of how backtracking feels. Something gets spelled out, turned around, re-trod, and rendered indecipherable. Only the T remains readable, marking the dead-end of the conversation.

Kay Rosen "Backtrack"

Kay Rosen “Backtrack”

An alternative viewpoint—if I challenge myself to go beyond this first somewhat disenchanted interpretation—Rosen’s work could also be read as representing the exquisite jumble that is inquisitiveness. That initial zeal of interest that provokes us to fall all over ourselves to connect and then entices us to keep moving forward, together. Perhaps, Backtrack paints a picture of something wondrous. That indescribable pull, that BLINGO, that will summon me back to 22nd Street to stare at words on a wall.

T marks the scene.



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