“A work of art makes you alert to what you hadn’t noticed in the ordinary things, so that the distinction narrows between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary,” we hear Corita Kent say in the new video produced by KCET Artbound, “Corita Kent: The Pop Art Nun.” The video, which is being exclusively premiered on Hyperallergic, is filled with gems of archival recordings from an artist who saw graphic design as a spiritual and political force.
Also known as Sister Mary Corita (which means “little heart”), she joined the religious order at the age of 18 but quickly went on to develop her identity as an artist. She got her master’s from the University of Southern California and was the head of the art department at Immaculate Heart College. Some of the most captivating segments in the video focus on Kent’s work as a teacher: one of her favorite activities was giving students viewfinders as tools for cropping. They’d go out into the Los Angeles streets and look closely at public signs and the façades of grocery stores.
Working during the era of Pop art, Kent was influenced by the likes of Andy Warhol and the use of everyday graphics. Like her contemporaries, she borrowed the imagery of packaging and advertising for her posters, except her works have a unique sense of depth and meaning. For example, in one artwork, she adapted the branding of Wonder Bread to talk about the hungry people in the world, despite the fact of having enough bread to go around. With time, Kent’s work became increasingly political, commenting on events in Los Angeles, including one poster that critiqued the LA Times‘s racist coverage of the 1965 Watts uprising.
This video is part of a special Sunday Edition that Hyperallergic is publishing with KCET on the rich history of graphic design in California, with a focus on Los Angeles. You can read more about Kent and the context in which she was working by checking out our other articles in the series.