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Inside The Hammer's Newly Digitized Corita Kent Archive

Corita Kent. (Photo courtesy of the Hammer Museum)
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Corita Kent—a screenprinting nun who played a seminal role in the Los Angeles art world of the 1960s—blended faith and social activism to create a groundbreaking body of work. Kent, whose early art predated Andy Warhol (though he would later become an influence on her), was considered "an early adopter of serigraphy, or silk-screening—considered a sign painter’s lowly tool at the time," according to The New York Times.

From 1947 to 1968, Corita taught classes in the art department at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. Characterized by striking combinations of bold graphics and poignant texts, Kent's Pop Art serigraphs were as likely to include an advertising slogan as a snippet of philosophical and theological text. She "sought out revelation in the everyday, exploring grocery stores, car dealerships, and the streets of Hollywood for inspiration," according to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland.

Dubbed the “joyous revolutionary” by artist Ben Shahn, Kent's iconic prints found their way into Civil Rights and anti-war protests. Legendary architect and designer Buckminister Fuller described his visit to Kent's studio as "among the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of my life."

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At the height of her popularity—a year before Sister Corita left the order to work as an artist full-time—she appeared with a collage of her work on the cover of Newsweek under the headline "The Nun: Going Modern." Upon her death in 1986, Kent donated her personal art collection (totaling more than 1,400 objects!) to the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts. A vast array from that collection has now been digitized by the Hammer Museum, with the generous cooperation of the Corita Art Center, and is wonderfully available online for all to see.

The digital archive includes preparatory materials that offer unique insight into her work. For example, take a look at the trio of images below that shows the process behind Kent's 1968 "you shoot at yourself, america."


Click the image to enlarge.

"you shoot at yourself, america" was created—like many of Kent's works—by layering material from myriad sources. According to the Hammer, Kent first took a photo of a statue from the Immaculate Heart College's folk art collection and then tore a small hole into the forehead of the statue (far left), which she combined with a poem by the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko that she cut out and collaged onto a separate piece of paper (middle).

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The Hammer Museum's digital Corita Kent archive features a gallery of more than 600 completed screenprints, along with sketches and watercolors. Here's a look at what's inside: