The following comes from a June 29 Glendale News-Press article by Kirk Silsbee:
The poster as a medium of communication underwent a renaissance in the 1960s. Provocative statements, bold colors and clever images were everywhere — from retail spaces to protest marches to classrooms and college dorms. Important graphic designers like Milton Glaser, Andy Warhol and the rock music artists working in San Francisco have all been critically examined and exhibited. That only makes the omission of innovator Sister Mary Corita Kent puzzling.
The Pasadena Museum of California Art is finally rectifying the scholarly neglect of Kent (1918-1986) with its current retrospective. At her best, she combined pithy text that touched the conscience with eye-catching designs that pulled the viewer in like a good burlesque house barker. Her colors were often magnetic and sometimes jarring. Her posters and designs were everywhere: art exhibitions, magazine graphics, book jackets and album covers. She appeared on the cover of Newsweek and her designs for the Boston natural gas storage tanks were iconic.
Warhol, Glaser and Ed Ruscha may have been considered hipper, but Kent’s work was visible, prolific and influential. Her use of undulating type was picked up by countless art directors and designers, while a Samsonite suitcase covered in her designs (in 1976) sits under glass at the PMCA.
Raised an observant Catholic in Los Angeles, Frances Elizabeth Corita Kent joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as a nun, and later earned a master’s degree in art history at USC in 1951. Some of her early 1950s prints show a fondness for the vivid image, though they can be congested. She simplified, incorporating letter forms in ever more interesting combinations, size relationships and juxtapositions. Her titles affected the lower case, but unlike the Beat poets, she was probably expressing humility.
Though her medium was a populist one, Kent was a serious artist who thought deeply about visual communication. Charles and Ray Eames, Saul Bass, Alfred Hitchcock, John Cage and Buckminster Fuller all visited her Immaculate Heart College classroom.
Around 1962 she discovered Day-Glo colors, presaging their use by rock poster artists by several years. Her expert manipulation of vibrating colors in “wet and wild” (1967) has the blue letters create the illusion of visibly hovering off of the red ground. A suite of 26 evenly spaced posters is a retinal riot: It uses graphic images from the turn of the 20th century, written text and superimposed letterforms in an homage to the circus.
About the same time, she incorporated advertising slogans and images, slyly combining them with deeper spiritual messages. Pepsi’s “come alive” catch-phrase shares space with “you can make it!”
She could be subliminally compelling by placing a word or a phrase upside down or backward, in contradiction to the larger theme. Poetry, literature and song lyrics were fair game for her images, whether they came from Rilke or the Beatles. A diptych uses Leonard Cohen’s “God is alive, magic is afoot” as its headline, augmented by small print from Walt Whitman, Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Jung.
She was a liberal activist and her messages were clear: God is love, help the poor, and be nice to each other, war is always wrong. Kent saw John and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the Berrigan Brothers and Cesar Chavez as modern saints. Lyndon Johnson got her nod in a war on poverty poster, but escaped culpability in “stop the bombing” (1967). Albert Camus’ words — “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice” — was a mantra in her work.
Kent’s compassion could be misplaced: An image of a captured Viet Cong soldier absurdly links to a slave ship diagram, and she saw Jesus in Watts rioters. She featured Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s scathing anti-American diatribe but seems to have had no concern for genocide or human rights violations outside of America’s borders.
I was given two Kent serigraphs years ago. Both resembled scenes from hell-colors, no depictions of demons as such. I threw them away eventually. Sr. Corita’s twin was the opposite of her, a faith-filled Sister her whole life, who kept the habit and was the sacristan at Immaculate Heart College when I attended in the 1950’s, This was before most of them “went over the wall.” Brilliant women who got on the wrong track and just kept going. They need our prayers…thank God for new Religious Orders springing up; their orthodoxy is attracting dozens if not hundreds of young women.
Sr Mary Corita Kent, unquestionably talented as an artist, however was also one of the many casualties of the Vatican 2 aggiornamiento (a word that actually never appears in any of the V2 documents) that swept through her religious order, the Immaculate Heart nuns. She left the order in 1968 (wisely as it turned out, before Card. McIntyre suppressed them in 1970), since there was no reason any longer for her to stay—why so many left after the scythe of Vatican I I struck. There is no doubt she had a vocation, but V2 was merciless to many vocations.
As many know, the remnants of the same sad ruin of a sisters’ religious order is this one, the old IHM’s, filled with now-octogenarian lay women fighting with Archbp. Gomez over the sale of their convent, over land which always has belonged to the Arch. of LA (cf. “The Nuns and Katy Perry”, Cal Catholic, June 30, 2015). The long, unhappy disintegration of a once-great Catholic teaching order, its works, even its very fine college (Immaculate Heart College was known as the best undergrad school for art and music, bar none—forget USC and UCLA—in the LA area in its era, according to veterans of the 1960’s), now dies with scarce a whimper.. All ruins now.
To know the Truth about anything, first, one must seek Understanding of that Subject matter; one must have lived in that set of Events, whether in reality or in Imitation within one’s heart to have gained some fundamental Knowledge from all sides in connections to others in the full cycle of movements, as its effects and affects to others. After having gathered those different sets of Truths with certainty then one can offer one’s comments. Anything that one doesn’t know with certainty by not having experienced it, if one choice to make testaments about it, it is not of real knowledge, either the readers or the lookers should take it as a grain of salt. Enjoy it and let go! Thanks for that person’s love of sharing her/his gift!
also to be remembered in her anti-war work was the outrage she caused in boston painting a gigantic rainbow mural with ho chi minh’s face overlooking the higway. it was blended well enough with an abstract art flourish that it was attributed to viewers; imaginations when noticed. the left praised it, knowing what they saw.
Reproductions of her work decorated the main refectory of St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, for decades. They were removed a few years ago.
This sister was a huge scandal to the Catholic Church. She and hundreds of other radicals openly disobeyed Cardinal McIntyre and did their own thing. The lives of thousands of young girls who attended IHHS were never taught the truth, but were instructed how to use birth control and whom to consult to obtain an abortion. Many of the sisters who were not having affairs with priests were having them with other sisters. FICTION? No, sadly it is all true.
Wait till Abp Jose Gomez reads this. He’ll soon be promoting Sister Mary Kent’s sainthood along with comrades Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez (or was it Hugo Chavez?), and what’s his name from El Salvador.