Sunday, September 06, 2015

Pop Goes the Nun

“Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”
Corita Kent

Like the trilogy that underpinned her faith the American artist Corita Kent aka Sister Mary Corita was a woman of multiple parts; she was a nun, an artist and a political activist.

At the age of 18 Kent joined the Roman Catholic convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary after spending her formative adolescent years being educated in Los Angeles Catholic school system. It was an order that has been described as espousing “hospitality, generosity, outgoing joy, lightness, humor, compassion and courage.”

After spending several years teaching elementary school in British Columbia Kent returned to the Los Angeles convent to become an art teacher at the Immaculate Heart College. In line with the college’s credo of “the better educated the professors, the better educated their students,” Kent gained a masters of art history at the University of Southern California along with the practice of silk screen printing.

For two decades Kent taught at the college with her being the head of its art department for her last four years there. At the age 50 Kent left holy orders under pressure from the church’s[HB1]  Los Angeles leadership to assume the secular life of an artist in Boston.

Throughout her time in religious orders Kent’s avant-garde approach to art was a thorn that irritated the church’s conservative hierarchy. From their 1950’s request that she cease depicting the “Holy Family” in abstract expressionist terms to the censorship of publically displaying the 1964 pop art inspired print the juiciest tomato of them all for being too flippant.  

Over the course of her career Kent’s work moved from the religious to the secular. With a highly calligraphic content her quotes moved from scripture to those of popular culture like the Beatles and advertising whilst espousing her humanitarian disposition.

A disposition that found a ready audience in the highly charged anti-war sentiments of peace and love of the nineteen sixties and seventies.

Kent’s art was aesthetically bold and joyful which with is offer of spiritual renewal, social critique and political capacity that when combined with a disarming personality saw her become popular in the college, in Catholic communities, and in both local and national press.

As her former student the Eastern Washington University’s Dr. Barbara Loste wrote “By the mid-1960s, as a result of her growing recognition as an artist and teacher, Sister Corita began to experience almost rock-star status among her students and some art collectors.”

Kent’s final years saw the changing seasons of Boston reflected in her work along with the peace of solitude. He also started working with watercolor which she often used as source material for her silkscreens. Her work continued to express her interest in the interconnectedness of human beings and humanity’s duty to one another although with a broadened spiritual base.

The exhibition Corita Kent and the Language of Pop is currently on show at the Harvard Art Museums until the 3rd of January next year followed in February to May at the San Antonio Museum of Art. 

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