The Pavilions of Honour
Source collection Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent worked at the intersection of several powerful—and at times contradictory—cultural, political, and religious influences. Corita Kent, inspired by the works of Andy Warhol, began using popular culture as raw material for her work in 1962. Her screen prints often incorporated archetypical product brands of American consumerism alongside spiritual texts. She often used grocery store signage, texts from scripture, newspaper clippings, song lyrics, and writings from literary greats.
Sister Mary Corita Kent (1918-1986) led the Mary’s Day Parade on the grounds of Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in 1964. A startlingly bacchanalian procession that lay somewhere between a People’s Park be-in and a PTA meeting, they marched with hand-painted signs saying “Let us break bread together” and “God likes you,” as well as placards adorned with colorful pictures of food. It was an almost pagan celebration of life, reflecting Kent’s unorthodox approach to spirituality and community, a system of contacts and behaviours established between actors.
In her 1966 piece 'Tame It’s Not', she uses quotes from Winnie the Pooh, Kierkegaard, and an ad slogan for men’s cologne. Using everyday consumer items he was able to bring words and thoughts about her religion to a familiar product that people saw and used everyday. By creating juxtaposition between formally acknowledged or respected “art” and the art Corita saw in her everyday world—at the supermarket, on a walk, in the classroom—she elevated the banal to the holy.
Her design process involved appropriating an original advertising graphic to suit her idea; for example, she would tear, rip, or crumble the image, then re-photograph it. Her style is heavily text-based, with scripture passages or positive quotes often encompassing entire compositions with bold and highly saturated typefaces. Despite the often surreal or disorienting compositions of her works, her pieces are “always about something".
Kent produced her oeuvre during her time at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles in response to the Catholic reform in the 1960s by the Vatican Council II as well as several political and social issues happening at the time. Her work itself aided in the Vatican II movement, a movement to modernize and make relevant the Catholic Church. Because of her strongly political art, Kent and others left their order in 1970 to avoid problems with their archdiocese.
One of Kent’s prints, 'Love your brother' (1969), depicts photographs of Martin Luther King Jr. overlaid with her handwritten words, “The king is dead. Love your brother,” producing one of her more serious artworks, and presenting her views on politics and human nature. Her collages commented on the political unrest of the period, many of which could have been found at any number of marches or demonstrations, some of which she attended herself.
Originally completed in 1968, Kent’s 'International Signal Code Alphabet' encompasses a series of 26 kaleidoscopic serigraphs integrating scripture, typography, image, icon and the maritime flags of the International Code of Signals. Kent was not afraid of breaking rules. It was almost as though she threw out all the laws of design, typography and color and even now, her body of work can be seen as a truly rebellious act.
Sister Corita Kent’s primary medium was silk screen. She became self-taught after she sent away for a DIY silk screening kit.Her innovative methods pushed back the limitations of two-dimensional media of the times. Kent’s emphasis on printing was partially due to her wish for democratic outreach, as she wished for affordable art for the masses. Her artwork, with its messages of love and peace, was particularly popular during the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.