Today is the 104th birthday of the artist and nun Corita Kent. Her work combines two of my very favorite things: pop art and typography. I love her stuff. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Corita Kent
BIRTHDATE: November 20, 1918
BIRTHPLACE: Fort Dodge, Iowa
DATE OF DEATH: September 18, 1986
PLACE OF DEATH: Boston, Massachusetts
Named one of nine Women of the Year by the Los Angeles Times (1966)
Featured on the cover of Newsweek (1967)
Received the American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal (2016)
BEST KNOWN FOR: American Catholic nun, an artist, and an educator who worked in Los Angeles and Boston.
Upon entering the Roman Catholic order of Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles in 1936, Kent took the name Sister Mary Corita. She took classes at Otis (now Otis College of Art and Design) and Chouinard Art Institute and earned her BA from Immaculate Heart College in 1941. She earned her MA at the University of Southern California in Art History in 1951. Between 1938 and 1968 Kent lived and worked in the Immaculate Heart Community. She taught in the Immaculate Heart College and was the chair of its art department. She left the order in 1968 and moved to Boston, where she devoted herself to making art. She died of cancer in 1986.
Her classes at Immaculate Heart were an avant-garde mecca for prominent, ground-breaking artists and inventors, such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Cage, Saul Bass, Buckminster Fuller and Charles & Ray Eames.
Kent credited Charles Eames, Buckminster Fuller, and art historian Dr. Alois Schardt for their important roles in her intellectual and artistic growth.
Kent created several hundred serigraph designs, for posters, book covers, and murals. Her work includes the 1985 United States Postal Service stamp “Love” and Rainbow Swash (1971), the largest copyrighted work of art in the world, covering a 150-foot (46 m) high natural gas tank in Boston.
Some of Corita Kent’s most recent solo exhibitions include: Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, There Will Be New Rules Next Week at Dundee Contemporary Arts, and R(ad)ical Love: Sister Mary Corita at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Corita Kent’s estate is represented by the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles, CA.
Corita Kent began using popular culture as raw material for her work in 1962. Her screen prints often incorporated the archetypical product of brands of American consumerism alongside spiritual texts. Her design process involved appropriating an original advertising graphic to suit her idea; for example, she would tear, rip, or crumble the image, then re-photograph it. She often used grocery store signage, texts from scripture, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and writings from literary greats such as Gertrude Stein, E. E. Cummings, and Albert Camus as the textual focal point of her work.
Sister Corita produced her oeuvre during her time at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in response to the Catholic reform in the 1960s by the Vatican Council II as well as several political and social issues happening at the time. Because of her strongly political art, she and others left their order to create the Immaculate Heart Community in 1970 to avoid problems with their archdiocese.
The “Big G” logo that Sister Corita took from General Mills was to stress the idea of ‘goodness’, while the elements stolen from Esso gasoline ads were meant to project the internal power within humans. Unsurprisingly, a Christian subtext does underscore several of her artworks, but not all, which are open to interpretation.
One of Sister Corita’s prints, love your brother (1969), depicts photographs of Martin Luther King Jr. overlaid with her handwritten words, “The king is dead. Love your brother,” outlining one of her more serious artworks, and presenting her views on politics and human nature. Sister Mary Corita’s collages took popular images, often with twisted or reversed words, to comment on the political unrest of the time period, many of which could have been found at any number of marches or demonstrations, some of which she attended herself.
The Corita Art Center, a gallery and archive dedicated to preserving and promoting the work and spirit of Corita Kent, is located on the campus of Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz, Los Angeles.
Corita Kent’s papers are held at the Schlesinger Library, in Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Partial list of publications
1967 Footnotes and Headlines: A Play-Pray Book, Sister Corita
1968 To Believe in God, poem by Joseph Pintauro, color by Sister Corita
1969 city, uncity, poems by Gerald Huckaby, pages by Corita Kent
1970 Damn Everything but the Circus, Corita Kent
1990 Primary Colors: The Story of Corita, Jeffrey Hayden
1992 Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, Corita Kent (posthumously) and Jan Steward
2000 Life Stories of Artist Corita Kent (1918–1986): Her Spirit, Her Art, the Woman Within (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Gonzaga University), Barbara Loste
2000 Eye, No. 35, Vol. 9, edited by John L. Walters, Quantum Publishing
2006 Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita, Julie Ault
1980 Corita, a retrospective at the deCordova Museum
2000 The Big G Stands for Goodness: Corita Kent’s 1960s Pop, Luckman Fine Arts Gallery, California State University, Los Angeles (travelling exhibition exploring parallels between the work of Corita Kent and 15 contemporary Los Angeles artists)
2006 Dissent!, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge (an exhibition exploring the subversive history of printmaking)
2007 If Everybody had an Ocean: Brian Wilson, Tate St Ives (travelling exhibition)
2008 A Passion for the Possible: The Works of Sister Corita, Monster Children Gallery, Sydney
2013 The Gospel According to Corita Kent, Solo Show, Parson House Gallery, Assonet, US
The Corita Kent Exhibition, Solo Show, The Herb Alpert Educational Village, Santa Monica, US
There Will Be New Rules Next Week, Solo Show, Dundee Contemporary Arts Center, Dundee, Scotland
Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, Solo Show, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, US
Tell It to My Heart, Group Show, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, Basel, Switzerland
Culturgest, Group Show, Lisbon, Portugal
Artists Space, Group Show, New York, US
Decade of Dissent: Democracy in Action 1965-1976, Group Show, Santa Monica Art Studios, Santa Monica, US
Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art, Group Show, Los Angeles Convention Center, L.A., US
Air de Pied-à-terre, Group Show, Lisa Cooley Gallery, New York, US
Elements, Rudiments, and Principles, Group Show, Boston University Art Gallery, Boston, US
2014 Let the Sun Shine In – A Retrospective, Solo Show, Circle Culture Gallery,[ Berlin, Germany
Corita Kent, Solo Show, Galerie Allen, Paris, France
Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, Solo Show, Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, US
2015 Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, California, USA
Corita Kent and the Language of Pop, September 3, 2015 – January 3, 2016, Harvard Art Museums; February 13, 2016 – May 8, 2016, San Antonio Museum of Art
Corita Kent: Footnotes and Headlines at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University
2016 Sister Corita’s Summer of Love, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Zealand
Corita Kent, Spiritual Pop, Portland Art Museum Portland, Oregon, US
2017 Sister Corita’s Summer of Love, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, Australia
2018 Beginning with the Seventies: GLUT, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Corita Kent: Get With the Action, Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, Ditchling, UK