Rosen has been exploring the possibilities of words as images for over 50 years. She delights in the small shift; the subtle change that subverts meaning and reveals the unexpected. In her paintings, drawings, wall works, collages and editions she has used varied visual, grammatical, and typographical strategies to challenge the way people see and understand the words they read. For someone whose ammunition is the painted word she is also a very visual artist, using colour to articulate her ideas in a way that is often humorous, sometimes shocking, and frequently profound.
Rosen’s work has been described as sculpture, poetry, architecture, and performance. Roberta Smith in the New York Times once called her a “writer’s sculptor” and Eileen Myles called her the “poet of the art world.” In a 2014 piece for Art In America, Rosen wrote: “The linguist in me wanted meaning to be carried by the structure of the words, not type style; the inner painter insisted that color convey meaning; the sculptor in me obsessed about the construction of letterforms through materials and process; and any poetic instincts strove for efficiency.”
Kay Rosen has been the subject of numerous articles, reviews, and group and solo exhibitions all worldwide, including at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; the Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, which hosted her 25-year survey, Kay Rosen: Lifeli[k]e. Rosen's wall painting commission at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. opened in April, 2021.
Rosen taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for twenty-four years. She was born and raised in Corpus Christi, Texas and lives in New York City and Gary, Indiana.