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Someday is Now: The trailblazing political pop art of Sister Corita
09.06.2017
01:17 pm
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For those of us who worship at the altar of art and creativity, the career of Sister Corita serves as something like a proof that exciting and bracing art can come from any source. Another way of stating this is that if Sister Corita had never existed, the art-heads of the 1960s might have been obliged to invent her. Sister Corita was a peace activist, a nun, and a pop artist of considerable stature—all at the same time.

The woman who would later become known as Sister Corita was born Frances Kent in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1918, which incidentally means that she was 45 years old on the day that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed. Her large family moved to Los Angeles when she was young, where she would find educational mentors in a Catholic community of liberal nuns, namely the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart Order. They encouraged her to pursue art. In the 1950s she came upon an old silk screen at the art department of Immaculate Heart College and the wife of a Mexican silk-screen practitioner taught her how to clean and use it.

Her career can be said to have begun then; despite impressive productivity, however, it took about a decade for her work, which incorporated textual elements from the very start, to come into full maturity. The debt that Sister Corita owes artists like Andy Warhol and Peter Blake is evident everywhere, but it should be emphasized that the work of those two men lacked moral and spirital components that came to Sister Corita quite easily. When she zooms in on a package of Wonder Bread with emphasis on the words “Enriched Bread,” it’s almost impossible not to think of Jesus Christ. Warhol’s work has a moral element, for sure, but he wouldn’t have been as likely to meditate on the words wonder, enriched, and bread in the same way. (Warhol was only interested in one kind of “bread”: money!)

In 1967 she said, “I started early putting words into my prints, and the words just got bigger and bigger.” That year the Morris Gallery in New York hosted a show dedicated to her prints. By this time she was a “card-carrying” member of the peace movement; she was quoted as saying, “I’m not brave enough not to pay my income tax and risk going to jail, but I can say rather freely what I want to say in my art.”

After a lifetime of association with the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she resigned from the order in 1968, in part because of the unusual demands her sudden celebrity had brought. It’s fascinating to watch her work get progressively darker through the 1965-1970 period. I marvel at the sheer balls it would take to put together a red, white, and blue canvas with the words assassination and violence prominently represented and call it American Sampler—I just know I don’t have them!

For a good overview of her work, by all means do consult Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita by Julie Ault. The Corita Art Center has a terrific collection of her images as well.
 

For Eleanor, 1964
 

Mary Does Laugh, 1964
 
Much more after the jump…...
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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09.06.2017
01:17 pm
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Sister Mary Corita, nun, teacher and Pop art pioneer
11.20.2014
06:30 pm
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Corita Kent—known as Sister Mary Corita until her departure from religious servitude in 1968—is one of the great unsung trailblazers of pop art. As chair of the arts department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, Sister Mary Corita’s approach to arts pedagogy touched Saul Bass, Alfred Hitchcock, Buckminster Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames, and John Cage (whom she quotes in her famous “10 Rules for Students,” below). Her work is known for its political content and explicitly anti-war messaging, but there’s more to her artistic legacy than her identity as a radical nun.

Although her most public pieces are a really bad stamp and a giant natural gas tank of the same ilk, they pale in comparison to her larger body of work—primarily serigraphs (multi-colored screen prints). She used bright shades, thick lines, deconstructed advertising design and erratic typography. She often including literary quotes or her own poetry in scrawl, producing elegant political messaging without heavy-handedness, sanctimony or literalism. The work is bold, triumphant and sometimes spiritual, but never preachy.

Corita Kent died of cancer in 1986 in Boston, where she relocated after leaving the order. She would have been 96 today. I highly recommend you give her classroom rules below a look, and check out the short 1967 documentary, We Have No Art, at the end of the post for her brilliant insight into the creative process.
 

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

 

“Come Alive,” 1967.
 

From the “Circus Alphabet” series, 1968. Kent made multiple prints of this particular Camus quote.
 

“Stop the Bombing,” 1967.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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11.20.2014
06:30 pm
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