BFA Thesis Exhibition Offers Mesmerizing Look at Seniors’ Work

May 7, 2021
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BFA Thesis Show 2021 Breaking Out

On view through May 14, the expansive show features more than 60 artists

This article was first published in BU Today on May 7, 2021. By Sam Drysdale (COM’21). Photos by Cydney Scott


We dare you to walk by the College of Fine Arts without pausing to take in the vibrant abstract painting of multicolored stripes hanging in the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery window. The arresting canvas, A Lifetime of Skies, painted by Cailyn Masson (CFA’21), offers a hint of what’s inside and across the street at 808 Comm Ave: a mesmerizing combination of painting, sculpture, printmaking, and graphic design comprising this year’s BFA Thesis Exhibition.

The work by 61 talented School of Visual Arts seniors is on view through May 14 at the Stone Gallery and the Commonwealth Gallery, both at 855 Commonwealth Ave., as well as in satellite shows in CFA’s fifth floor studio areas and the first floor hallway at 808 Comm Ave.

“These artists have been steadfast to their work and their community of artists over this past year. This perseverance is a testament to their commitment to craft and sharing a conversation around art,” says show curator Leah Triplett Harrington, a Boston-based writer and curator of the nonprofit public art accelerator Now + There. “They are making, and breaking out of, any preconceptions or parameters for doing so.”

In fact, this year’s BFA exhibition is titled Breaking Out. The theme was developed by the branding team graphic design seniors and grew out of conversations about the need to escape the Zoom boxes that have dominated our lives this past year and rediscover beauty in physical spaces. The title is also a reflection of how Zoom has offered us glimpses into people’s private lives, allowing us to find spaces between the physical and digital, the private and public.

Mary Yang, a CFA assistant professor of art, graphic design, says her students wanted to focus on finding a silver lining in the past year. The theme, she says, is also a reflection of their growth as individual artists. “Breaking out can be going outside their comfort zone, trying something different than what they had been making before this year,” Yang says. “I think breaking out also means going out and making change and letting their work be impactful in some way.”

The statement about the show’s theme—“We’ll realize that all this time, breaking out means shining together”—underscores, too, the sense of community the artists wanted to emphasize by coming together.

The ways individuals found community, redefined home, and sought some kind of inner peace throughout the pandemic are reflected in the hundreds of artworks on view throughout the exhibition spaces.

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Design team member Emerson Lawton (CFA’21) helped curate the room’s layout. One of her pieces in the show is a collection of morbid keychains and souvenirs, which are drawn from her thesis on the commodification of tragedy. …

Lawton says she’s proud of the work she and her peers have done to create the show. “I want people to see that we were all able to come together and put everything into a physical show,” she says. “We weren’t sure if that was going to be possible this year, so the fact that we were able to get everyone to collaborate on this one space is so exciting.”

Dana Clancy, director of the School of Visual Arts and an associate professor of art, painting, says she is impressed with the growth she has seen in the BFA program’s graduating seniors this year.

“They’ve evolved in finding their own voices, but at the same time what I’ve also noticed is just how much more they know about a larger context,” she says. “I hope that people come to the exhibition, and seeing it in person, are surprised and see that the material resonates with them.”

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BFA Thesis Exhibition Offers Mesmerizing Look at Seniors’ Work