Photo Essays

The Beautiful Mercy of Corita Kent’s Screenprints

Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent, “E eye love” (1968) (image courtesy Corita Art Center, Los Angeles)

It’s easy to mock Christianity in the United States today, when its loudest voices seem to be those who stray the furthest from Jesus’s focus on the poor and dispossessed. Within this parched religious climate, the prints of Sister Corita Kent, currently on view at the Andy Warhol Museum, are like desert streams for those who still believe in the mobilizing power of faith to help bring about a more just society.

2_Immaculate_Heart_College_c_1955_courtesy_of_Corita_Art_Center_Los_Angeles
Immaculate Heart College Art Department, Los Angeles (c. 1955) (image courtesy of Corita Art Center, Los Angeles) (click to enlarge)

The Catholic nun’s tenacity as a feminist, civil rights activist, and antiwar demonstrator belied her prim black habit and fueled the silkscreens she made up until her death in 1986. “I am not brave enough to not pay my income tax and risk going to jail,” she once explained. “But I can say rather freely what I want to say with my art.” Rather than criticizing culture, she plumbed it for truth. Her text-driven, pop-inspired works freely reference not only scripture but also Beatles lyrics, company slogans, and even Albert Camus. “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice,” quotes one print (from Camus) from 1968, the height of US involvement in the Vietnam War.

Despite her masterful oeuvre and serious reputation (John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles and Ray Eames all held her in high esteem), the artist has been mostly overlooked by museums until recently. Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, organized by the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, reveals a sensitive, exuberant woman whose faith drove her to speak out on behalf of the weak and oppressed through her art.

Corita Kent, mary does laugh, 1964, courtesy of Corita Art Center, Los Angeles, and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College
Corita Kent, “mary does laugh” (1964) (image courtesy Corita Art Center, Los Angeles, and the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College)
Corita Kent, for emergency use soft shoulder, 1966, Collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College
Corita Kent, “for emergency use soft shoulder” (1966) (image courtesy the collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College)
Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent, “who came out of the water” (1966) (image courtesy the collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College)
Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent, “manflowers” (1969) (image courtesy the collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College)
Corita Kent, handle with care, 1967, Collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College
Corita Kent, “handle with care” (1967) (image courtey the collection of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College)
Sister Corita Kent
Corita Kent, “things go better with” (1967) (image courtesy Corita Art Center, Los Angeles)

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent continues at the Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh) through April 19.

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