Kaylee Rose’s Everywhere Art

Illness inspired a new reverence for “deeply looking” to find beauty in the ordinary

For Kaylee Rose, being in the MFA program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts continues her investigation into what she calls “the beauty that lies within the ordinary and overlooked.”

It is a perspective that grew out of a life interrupted by illness: Debilitated by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis as a teenager, she had to suspend her undergraduate studies in art at The Ohio State University for five years. 

Today, Rose, 31, brings a passion for “looking deeply” to her graduate studies and to her work as a teaching assistant. In her studio on the Fenway campus, she primarily works in graphite and oil mediums, with hints of charcoal. 

She especially enjoys sketching marble sculptures in the Greek and Roman gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, drawn less to their perfection than to the almost imperceptible flaws. Her paintings reflect a similar fascination with what is oft-overlooked. As she walks around Boston, she looks for found objects: a piece of vinyl, or a twig of oak leaves—one with a hole left by a devouring leaf miner. Sometimes, that fascination morphs into collage-like work: bricks, for instance, juxtaposed with weathered two-by-fours.  The connecting thread, what defines the body of her thesis work, is a desire that viewers “stop and look” at the imprint of passing time and how it imbues art with layers of meaning. 

That subtle appreciation also informs the painting and drawing classes where she is a teaching assistant. Students are asked to bring sharpened eyes to their own walks around Boston, to return with objects they too can transform into unexpected art. The best discovery? When they report back that “they’re now paying more attention,” she said. “I call that a spark moment, and it means so much to me, to know that students are now looking at the world around them more deeply.”

Leaves by Kaylee Rose

"Leaves on the Studio Wall" (above) and "Hopkins Wall" (below), focus on everyday traces of change, including those made by by age and time. Green leaves are also food for leafminers just as a vertical seam on Rose's studio wall suggests there is, even in what is seemingly solid, variation. Images courtesy of the artist

How did being seriously ill change how you thought about art?

I wouldn’t be making the art I’m making now unless I had felt so vulnerable. I felt like I was constantly off balance, so I tried to find things that were grounding. I started looking deeply at things that drew me into the here and now—ordinary, mundane things that I had never looked at before. 

White square by SMFA MFA candidate Kaylee Rose

When I would go for walks, I would see these huge cracks in the pavement and think: they are really beautiful—look how the sun shines off the concrete. That’s an art form in itself. I paid more attention to things not seen as an art form, and that completely restructured my experience of what art could be.

Who are your muses for the upcoming thesis exhibition?

One part of the thesis will be an homage to female painters overlooked throughout time: Josephine Halvorson, a contemporary printmaker, sculptor, and painter; Cynthia Lin, who has a series of dust paintings; and Clara Peeters, a Flemish Golden Age artist. I am not recreating whole pieces, but rather showing only ‘devastation marks’—the marks that show of the passage of time: where the paint cracks or dissolves. That idea of time leaving a mark I also explore in a drawing of a sculpture, where the only parts that I'm representing are the parts of the work that are actually broken, cracked, or falling apart.

Memory, including what traces or marks our lives “leave behind,” seems to be a theme you want to explore in art. Can you expand on that idea?

It’s a process of thought that comes from feeling that I have to do something with my life. Who’s going to remember me? I think a lot about that when it comes to art. It’s that idea that you can make a mark on something, and even if it’s not completely remembered by everybody, you can never unmark it. It’s always going to be there. And I think it’s such a beautiful thing to create. 

What are your goals as an artist and a teacher?

I would love to teach. It’s a blast watching other students get excited about what I get excited about in art. As for being an artist, I hope that I can encourage people to look at things that may not be traditionally beautiful within their standards—like a coffee stain or paint smear on a wall. Those things can be a strong emotional trigger if seen as having an inner beauty. And it’s something that, at least for me, I feel right in my chest.

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