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July 25, 2007

B Is For Be-Ins: The Silkscreened Alphabets Of Sister Mary Corita Kent


There's no chance one blog post can do justice to the silkscreen work of Sister Mary Corita Kent, an artist and nun who combined pop, modernism, collage and appropriated advertising, with poetry, inspirational and religious content, and social and political activism in the causes of peace and justice, so I won't even try. Suffice it to say, between Sister Mary Corita and a guitar mass, you'd be 95% of the way done recapturing all that was happy, shiny, inspiring and liberatingly religious about the Vatican II/ Vietnam War/Jesus Christ Superstar era. And if that weren't enough, she was total buds with Ray and Charles Eames. And her ransom note cut-out-style newsletters predate the Sex Pistols by almost a decade.

So just surf through the collection of prints at the Corita Art Center at the Immaculate Heart Community in Southern California. And read Julie Ault's authoritative account of Kent's work in the context of the art world of her day [and since. Ault also wrote the book, literally, on Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose deployment of offset prints, posters, and mass-produced commercial items demands a reconsideration of Sister Mary Corita's work as art, not just graphic design].

Then just start picking stuff for the walls and the shelves. Corita Kent's vows of poverty and her hippie populism led her to the distinctly unprecious medium of silkscreens. Vintage versions range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars apiece, but the Corita Center sells modern versions, along with cards and posters as well.

She made at least two sets of alphabets; the large screenprints from 1968, her last year at Immaculate Heart, are my favorite. [Search the Corita Collection for titles that include 'is for', without the quotes. It pulls up everything but X.] I mean, seriously:


B is for Be-ins
Can sixty make sense to sixteen—plus? What has my camp in common with theirs, with buttons and beards and Be-Ins? Much, I hope. In Acts it is written taste was no problem at Pentecost.
- Auden


G is for Game
Hello, I love you—won't you tell me your name—hello I love you—let me jump in your game
- The Doors

Vintage prints are $600-1400 each. I don't know if they were ever produced in other formats.

Like books. Kent was a prolific illustrator, especially after she moved to Boston and focused on her art full-time in the 1970's. Damn Everything But The Circus takes its title from an e.e. cummings poem. The 1971 book has illustrated quotes from the likes of cummings, , Camus, Dostoevsky Rilke, Thoreau, and Adlai Stevenson [?]. Classic.

Vintage copies are on Abebooks, and the last few on eBay have sold for under $50. The Corita Center sells new individual prints, 10.5" square of the letters, for $5/each, in case you wanted to frame them up and fill a wall.

Corita Art Center [corita.org]
writings about Kent on designobserver; Ault on Kent in Eye Magazine
Buy Ault's book, Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita [amazon]

posted July 25, 2007 1:21 PM | add to del.icio.us | digg this


Corita's gas tanks in Boston Southie are just beautiful thank god the city did not tear them down as they were going to a while ago.

posted by: parma30 at July 26, 2007 11:10 AM

I grew up with quite a few of these on the walls of my house.
my brother has them.
Love her.
Thank you for posting.

[for a second there, I thought you were talking yourself out of marching over to your brother's place and grabbing them back. -ed.]

posted by: rachel at July 28, 2007 12:21 AM
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