BU Today Feature: 2021 MFA Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition

MFA Graphic Design Thesis Show

Jenna Benoit (CFA’21) helping install part of this year’s MFA Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition, The Printer Is Broken, on view through April 6 at CFA’s Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery. Photo by Cydney Scott

This article was first published in BU Today on March 30, 2021. By Sam Drysdale (COM’21). Photos by Cydney Scott


A vibrant kaleidoscope of multi-platform design has taken up residence inside the College of Fine Arts Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery. As you step inside, you’re treated to an explosion of color, texture, and movement. Welcome to the 2021 MFA Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition.

Black text mounted on the gallery’s floor-to-ceiling columns announces the title of this year’s show, The Printer Is Broken, and the names of the 17 talented artists whose work is represented. The title refers to a question the artists considered while putting the exhibition together: how do you adapt when things don’t go your way?

Michael Rosenberg (CFA’21) says the notion of the “broken printer” was something that professors sometimes list in their syllabus. The failure of a tool, he says, is not an excuse to not finish a piece—you have to find a way around it.

“That’s kind of the overall metaphor that we were going with for this show, thinking about how we overcome our challenges and our tools and our systems.” Rosenberg says. “How do we adapt and change as artists and designers in our everyday lives? Our show reflects that, as we reclaim any errors that the printer has made.”

The show considers not just the versatility of the tools and methods of graphic design, but also the question, what happens when an artist’s relationship to those tools becomes problematic? What happens when the technology creates an unexpected or erratic result? What serendipitous discoveries and surprise errors occur?

A view of the MFA Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition, including the columnar title walls displaying the names of the featured artists and the show’s title. Photo by Cydney Scott

Ari Epstein (CFA’21) experimented with color in one of her designs, purposely choosing inaccurate printer settings so her posters would look completely different once printed than they had on her computer screen. Instead of cyan, magenta, and yellow, the posters are turquoise, lime, and purple. Other artists played with form. One of Rosenberg’s 10 plus pieces in the show is a “poster” that is an accordion book stretching to 14 feet.

Walking through the gallery, the viewer sees the various ways the assembled artists play with the idea of embracing error. One gallery wall, dubbed the “Glitch Wall,” displays works by each artist that have been purposely distorted. Another section, the “CMYK Wall,” explores what happens when graphic artists must confront limitations. Here, all of the work has been created using only standard ink colors for a printer—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. There’s also a “Scale Wall,” which presents a wonderful sort of optical illusion.

The exhibition includes several works by each artist and part of the show’s fun and what makes it so impressive is discovering their versatility. Works take the form of projections, animations, posters, and books, underscoring how technological advances have pushed graphic design well past a print-based medium.

The show was organized by the students. Some handled the overall planning, with subcommittees working on different sections: a title wall team (including the columns), a print team, and a projection team. The exhibition has been overseen by Christopher Sleboda, a CFA associate professor of art and of graphic design, who arrived at BU this past fall.

He says the students wanted to push themselves to not only create art, but also to find new and creative ways to display it. “Most exhibitions have a title wall that has some introductory information on a flat surface,” Sleboda says, “but the students were interested in how the entire space could be the title wall. So they used the architecture of the gallery.”

What makes this year’s MFA Graphic Design Thesis Show so exciting, Sleboda says, is the way it showcases the individual voices and deeply personal approaches to design of each of the 17 artists, while saying something collectively about the erratic nature of equipment in creating art.

“It’s a group of students coming together to say something with a unified voice, while putting together individual practices and work,” he says.

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The MFA Graphic Design Thesis Exhibition, The Printer Is Broken, is at the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Ave., through Tuesday, April 6; hours: Monday to Friday, 11 am to 5 pm. Because of the pandemic, exhibitions are limited to on-campus BU students, faculty, and staff. A virtual tour will be available soon for other visitors.

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