Holy Pop Art! Sister Corita’s Vivid Renaissance

The populist art of the nun who “did for bread and wine what Andy Warhol did for tomato soup."

sistercoritaThis year marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Frances Elizabeth Kent, more widely known as Sister Corita, the Andy Warhol of Hollywood. Sister Corita was a nun, a member of the West Coast’s Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, under whose progressive roof Corita developed and taught her art, a cutting-edge populist imagery in the vein of her more famous, mainstream Pop-art peers. Sister Corita used familiar 1960s artistic methods to spread the priorities of her spiritual life, namely religion and goodness, in a startling yet accessible way. She and the women she taught used silk screens, brilliant colors, contemporary slogans. She herself forsook black habits for bright, joyful clothes. The New York Times wrote that she “did for bread and wine what Andy Warhol did for tomato soup.”

Sister Corita was put on the cover of Newsweek in the 1960s; she was criticized severely by conservative Catholics but was adored by everyone else. Her champions included Henry Miller, Buckminster Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames, and John Cage. At the height of her fame, she left the convent where this revolution took place and disappeared into a more peaceful existence, with fewer deadlines and, presumably, more sleep. Commemorating her life and work is, at last, a colorful, incisive book by Julie Ault, Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita, to be launched at the Hammer Museum this month.

Printed with Day-Glo inks to enhance the vivid hues of Sister Corita’s art and designed by the award-winning Nick Bell, the book is the handiwork of Four Corners, a high-end British art-publishing house run by Elinor Jansz, wife of the young British art collector Alexander Sainsbury. We should be most grateful to the insightful Ms. Jansz for bringing Sister Corita back to the cultural horizon. V

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