Artist Corita Kent (1918-1986), also known as Sister Mary Corita, created highly-stylized prints that played with the conventions of popular culture, advertising and magazine graphics to deliver deeper messages of faith, love and peace.
"Corita Kent and the Language of Pop," a new exhibition on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art through May 8, 2016, features about 145 works of art by Kent and her main, male contemporaries by whom she was overshadowed in the pop art movement.
Sister Mary Corita Kent
Born Frances Elizabeth Kent in 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, she entered the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles at age 18. She became Sister Mary Corita.
For the next 30 years she would live and work at Immaculate Heart College, eventually heading its art department. During that time she developed her trademark style, combining the written word with silkscreen designs - an inexpensive medium allowing her to make affordable and accessible art.
"Life Is a Complicated Business"
"life is a complicated business" (1967), screenprint by Corita Kent.
The logo for Life magazine - whose photojournalism and advertisements were a fertile source of inspiration for Kent's lessons - is the backdrop of her print featuring quotations by Philip Roth ("Life is a complicated business, fraught with mystery and some sunshine") and Simon & Garfunkel ("Let the morning time drop all its petals on me. Life, I love you. All is groovy").
"Corita Kent and the Language of Pop"
Katie Luber, director of the San Antonio Museum of Art, told correspondent Faith Salie she hopes the exhibition "Corita Kent and the Language of Pop" places the artist's name firmly alongside her better-known contemporaries.
When asked why Corita Kent isn't a household name, Luber replied, "I think it goes back to the problem that pop art has, in terms of criticism and reception, really been seen as a male-dominated art form. And she is a woman, and she is a nun."
Kent used the 1960s' social and cultural revolutions as the catalyst for her messages about hope and love, drawing inspiration from scripture, pop culture and contemporary logos.
Luber said that Kent uses many of the strategies seen in the works of more famous male pop artists, like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha and Claes Oldenburg. "She simplifies the images. She makes strong outlines. Where she is different from those male artists is that she adds in another subtext or subtextual layer."
For example, Kent's "for eleanor" (pictured) plays off the General Mills "Big G" logo. "This is a very household slogan," said Luber," but she does subvert it just ever so slightly by not finishing the word 'goodness.' You start to meditate on the idea of what G stands for. Is it goodness? Is it good? Is it God? Is it something else?"
"(Tame) Hummed Hopefully to Others"
Detail from "(Tame) hummed hopefully to others" (1966), screenprint by Corita Kent.
In this vibrant graphic, Kent merged the main text, ripped from a men's after-shave ad ("Tame It's Not"), with philosophical quotations from Kierkegaard and a poet-instructor at Immaculate Heart College, Gerald Huckaby.
"Tomorrow the Stars"
"tomorrow the stars" (1966), screenprint by Corita Kent.
"Tomorrow the stars" was from a Prudential Insurance ad, while "Come alive!" was a slogan from Pepsi, both lifted from Life Magazine. The marketing lines here hint at a better, more joyful future.
"The Juiciest Tomato of All" (1964), screenprint by Corita Kent.
In reprinting the text of a letter from an English professor, Samuel Eisenstein, about the nature of advertising language, Kent used the parlance of a Del Monte ad for its description of the Virgin Mary: "Mary Mother is the juiciest tomato of all." This re-imagination of Mary through the appropriation of supermarket icons and text was of a piece with the Campbell's Soup can paintings of Andy Wahol (of whom Kent was a fan).
One of several Kent screenprints inspired by the packaging of Wonder Enriched Bread.
"round wonder" (c. 1965), screenprint by Corita Kent.
"Harness the Sun"
"harness the sun" (1967), screenprint by Corita Kent.
One-half of a diptych (a familiar form in religious art), which here references wings, lifts a radio slogan from Zenith Electronics, and incorporates lyrics from John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Charlie Chaplin, and the words of Henry David Thoreau.
"Powerup" (1965), screenprint on four sheets by Corita Kent.
Kent melds a sermon on spiritual fulfillment by an activist priest, Daniel Berrigan, with the advertising catch-phrase of the Richfield Oil Corporation.
Detail from "Powerup."
Sister Mary Corita
Under pressure, Kent eventually left the order, and in 1968 she moved east to Cape Cod, focusing on her art.
In 1971 Corita Kent oversaw the painting of a liquefied natural gas tank on Boston's waterfront in rainbow colors as an expression of peace in the midst of the Vietnam War.
As painters cover the 140-foot-high tank with rainbow stripes, Kent and Karl Kunberger, manager of gas supply and construction for Boston Gas Co., look at a finished model.
The 140-foot-tall "Rainbow Swash" (or "Rainbow Tank"), off Route 93 in Boston, is the largest copyrighted work of art in the world.
Corita Kent's ink and watercolor collage for the 1985 Love Stamp, perhaps her most recognizable work. The U.S. Postal Service sold more than 700 million of the stamps.
Sister Mary Corita
Kent died of cancer in 1986 at age 67.
"The messages that she was trying to deliver about hope and love are still messages that people want to hear," said Ray Smith, director of the Corita Art Center, an archive of Kent's work on the campus of Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles. "Our society is arguably just as chaotic as the '60s when she was making these prints, so people still need her work. And I think that's still as relevant today as it was 40, 50 years ago."
"Corita Kent and the Language of Pop"
For more info:
"Corita Kent and the Language of Pop" at the San Antonio Museum of Art (through May 8, 2016)
Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart High School, Los Angeles
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan