Pop art, 1960s social activism, screen printing, Los Angeles art scene, Catholic nun….one of these nouns seems incongruous, doesn’t it?
Thanks to the book Forgotten Women: The Artists by Zing Tsjeng, I learned of (Sister Mary) Corita Kent. This short video is an introduction to this intriguing personality (1918 – 1986.)
The more I read about her, the more fascinated I become. After high school, Francis Elizabeth Kent entered the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles and took the name Sister Mary Corita. She studied at the (now) California Institute of the Arts and the University of Southern California. From 1947 to 1968 she taught classes, and headed the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles.
Imagine being one of her students in an art department that became part of the L.A. art scene. Her classroom ‘rules’ are inspiring, aren’t they? I’m especially drawn to Rules 6 and 9. Along with Rule 4, I may have found my personal Rules for Life.
Corita Kent and the more famous pop artist Andy Warhol were producing art in the 1960s. Both grew up in devout Catholic families. Corita saw a show of his work in 1962, shortly after she had begun working with serigraphs.
Kent chose to work mainly in silkscreen printing (serigraph), which is accessible and affordable. She created almost 800 different designs. The work is included in many, many museums and galleries. The Hammer Museum has extensive resources, including a vast digital archive of her work. The Corita Art Center preserves and promotes her works, and mission. You may want to check out their Corita 101 art videos based on her book Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit.
She, too, became a popular figure in America culture: she was featured on the cover of Newsweek in 1967. She designed the US Post Office Love stamp in 1985, of which more than 700 million were sold.
Do we call this pop art timeless? It seems we are still, unfortunately, struggling with the same issues that Kent and Warhol explored. By using popular culture images, in simple, engaging designs, they expressed their beliefs. In different ways, they were challenging the status quo, and society’s continuing obsession with celebrity, material goods and consumption – at the expense of peace and justice for all.
It’s a message worthy of re-consideration. Rule # 10 gives us the impetus and permission to make the necessary changes to create a more equitable world for everyone.