June/July/Aug 2007

Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita

Albert Mobilio


In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 Roman Catholic Church conclave that proposed liberalizing church doctrine, many priests and nuns found affirmation of their growing roles as social activists. Frances Elizabeth Kent, a Sister of the Immaculate Heart better known as Sister Mary Corita, had already embarked on that path as an artist, producing bold, colorful prints that proclaimed the good news for modern man with the eclectic verve that came to define '60s graphic style. While teaching art at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles at the beginning of that decade, Corita began producing hundreds of serigraph images that drew inspiration from collage and abstract art, while deploying an array of textual sources 'Lennon and McCartney, Thoreau, Rilke, Daniel Berrigan, and advertising slogans' to advance New Testament themes of justice, peace, mercy, and love. In a silk screen titled enriched bread, 1965, the word WONDER, along with that product's red, white, and blue palette, evokes and quotes the familiar ads that promised to help 'build strong bodies 12 ways.' The allusion to the sacrament of communion is energized by playful use of product info (STANDARD LARGE LOAF, NO PRESERVATIVES ADDED) and complemented by an extended passage of Camus's that begins, "Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves." Corita owned the patent on this admixture of high, low, and holy; her innovative approach to spreading the gospel spread throughout the culture' by the end of the decade, many houses of worship (and parochial schools, including mine) were festooned with banners sporting exclamatory color and typography. In wide open, 1964, a fragment from Psalm 24:9: Open wide . . . that the King of Glory may enter in optimistically dovetails with Lyndon Johnson's exhortation "Open wide the exits from poverty to the children of the poor." Such was the spirit of that long-ago moment that church and state could be bound together in noble purpose by art.

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