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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sister Corita Artist and Activist

Sister Corita was the most famous nun of the 1960's and one of the most famous graphic artists in the country, yet she is rarely mentioned in the grand history of graphic design. Corita Kent (1918-1986), also known as Sister Corita, gained international fame for her vibrant serigraphs during the 1960s and 1970s. A Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she ran the Art Department at Immaculate Heart College until 1968 when she left the Order and moved to Boston.

During the late Sixties the Church, like the rest of the country, was going through changes which angered, threatened, and tormented many of the faithful. The art of Sister Mary Corita began to infuriate certain conservative church leaders. She was considered dangerous. Once she was accused of being a "guerrilla with a paint brush"; guerrilla meaning an enemy who used familiar images to make blatant statements. It is doubtful if this attack offended the artist. She was a resister, a quiet activist who knew her soul, and did what she could to make the world a better place in which to live.

Sister Corita had been "nuts about words and their shape since she was very young" and during the mid-1960's her work shifted from silkscreened, liturgical images to Pop Art appropriations of consumer-product typography and slogans. Her prints brought together advertising slogans with fragments of song lyrics and magazine covers, and she would often place these appropriated materials against a background of bright color. Corita’s work reflected her spirituality, her commitment to social justice and her hope for peace.

In an age when religion was distinctly conservative and uncool, irrelevant to the ’60s social revolution, she dared to be exuberant and original. She organized parades far removed from the somber processionals of religious tradition; she persuaded cutting-edge thinkers like John Cage and Charles and Ray Eames to visit the convent; and, in doing so, she quickly became the modern face of the Church for the U.S. media.

Her print work was turning graphic design on its head through her predilection for cutting up text, bending it and warping it for her prints. Words appear distorted as if viewed through water, upside down, or pushed into unlikely shapes—far and away more advanced than any of the work her contemporaries were creating. The Boston Gas tank on the Southeast Expressway still bears her famous 150-foot rainbow swash, which is a similar to her design for the 1985 Love Stamp. The Love stamp is the top selling stamp of all time.

This month marks what would have been her 90th birthday. The Corita Art Center is honoring the artist on November 22, 2008, celebrating her work and conducting a documentary project.

Visit the website for more information.

1 comment:

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

I can see the Boston gas tank out my back window. It truly is a unique landmark, and it's fun to watch when the paint gets touched up every decade or so.