Frances Elizabeth Kent – or Sister Corita as she was more commonly known – was an American Roman Catholic nun, and so much more. She was also a talented artist, teacher and social justice advocate. Her art was unique in the way it melded the religious and spiritual, alongside the political, using a Pop Art aesthetic. An exhibition of her work, 'Sister Corita's Summer of Love', is currently on show at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, until Sunday March 26.
A unique approach to art
"Sister Corita's celebrated text-based screen prints embody the vibrancy and bold, high-keyed imagery of significant, iconic works of the Pop Art movement, such as Andy Warhol's 32 Campbell Soup Cans installation of 1962," says Kelly Gellatly, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, The University of Melbourne.
"Magpie-like, Corita borrowed from, adapted and re-worked signs and slogans, popular song lyrics, poetry, billboards, product packaging and the magazine advertising that surrounded her in 1960s Los Angeles to develop her own distinct messages of joy, faith, love and protest."
Sister Corita was born in Iowa in 1918 and raised in Los Angeles. After graduating high school in 1936 she joined the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Artistically inclined from a young age, she achieved a BA and a Masters in Art alongside teaching, later heading up the art department at the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, between 1964 and 1968.
Art as a reflection of life
Corita's career flourished in the 1960s, her designs and artworks infused and influenced by religion, politics, music, advertising, literature, popular and consumer culture and social issues that were a reflection of the times. In 1963, she created the Vatican Pavilion banner at the World Fair held in New York. It was also during this era that Harper's Bazaar counted her among its '100 American Women of Accomplishment', she was dubbed one of the LA Times' 'Women of the Year', and fronted the cover of Newsweek's Christmas issue in 1967.
"Corita's work emerges as a colourful and touching response to a period of great unrest, including the American civil rights movement, the wars in Indo-China and South East Asia and the assassinations of America's political leaders," says Gellatly of Corita's work.
"Her works reflect the dynamism and issues of the times in which she lived, while maintaining and communicating a sense of optimism and hope. Despite being made well over 50 years ago, her images remain fresh and relevant and continue to speak to contemporary audiences. As the best preachers and political orators do, Corita's art leaves us with poignant and powerful messages that continue to resonate."
Sister Corita's Summer of Love
"It's really difficult to select favourites!" says Gellatly on choosing a favourite piece from the 'Sister Corita's Summer of Love' exhibition, which was enabled by the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community in Los Angeles CA and proudly supported by CCI.
"One of the great joys and privileges of working at the Potter and, effectively 'living' with the exhibition, is that I get to spend a lot of time with it. Each time I enter the galleries I discover new things about the work that surprise, intrigue and delight. It continues to reward repeated viewing. I love her playful and inventive use of typography, her love of language and her extraordinary use of colour. I also love that most of Corita's work was made 'around' her teaching commitments, in short, sharp creative bursts at the end of semester. While truly steeped in contemporary culture and the art of her times, her work was always seen as a meaningful and powerful form of communication, particularly for the next generation."
CCI is proud to be a supporter of the 'Sister Corita's Summer of Love' exhibition currently showing at The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, until Sunday March 26.
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