Corita Kent in her studio Corita Kent Art Center
Best-known as a “nun-turned-artist” and remembered for her colourful serigraphs that sought to retaliate against social injustice with the boundless power of love, the late artist Corita Kent was a luminary of the Los Angeles art scene in the 1960s, and often described as a harbinger of Andy Warhol. Now more than three decades after her death in 1986, a campaign is underway to save her former studio from demolition, and to designate the space as a historic-cultural monument.
The building at 5518 Franklin Avenue is currently a dry cleaner that is slated to be demolished to create space for a parking lot. The space served as Kents studio between 1960-68, when she produced some of her most notable pieces like the 1965 work My People, which addressed the Watts riots in Los Angeles in 1965—a six-day period of civil unrest resulting in 34 deaths that followed the police beating of the African-American man Marquette Frye.
“Her work always came from themes of love, justice and hope,” says Nellie Scott, the director of the Corita Art Center, which was established after Kents death and sits across the street from her former studio. “Theres been a resurgence of interest in her work now when people are increasingly looking to past inspirational leaders during tough times.”
Corita Kent, My People, 1965 The Corita Kent Art Center
Kent was born Frances Elizabeth Kent in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1918, but spent most of her life in Los Angeles. She joined the order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—a progressive Roman Catholic congregation—in 1936, aged 18. With her sisters, Kent began experimenting with silk-screening as a vehicle for political demonstrations related to the Civil Rights Movement and the first-wave feminist movement.
During her time at the Immaculate Heart College, Kent also enrolled in classes at the Otis College of Art and Design and the Chouinard Art Institute, and earned her BA in art history from the University of Southern California in 1951. Her work during this time was “inspired by what was happening not only in the country but locally in Los Angeles; she pulled from the streets to touch on subjects like poverty, hunger and adversity”, Scott says.
In 1968—after a series of conflicts with a conservative cardinal who called for nuns to rein-in their political demonstrations, and who called her work “weird and sinister”—Kent left the church to pursue a full-time career as an artist and arts educator. Although she relocated to Boston the same year, her “roots as an educator, artist and social justice activist were very much centralised in Los Angeles, and she produced her most important work here”, Scott says.
In 2018, the city of Los Angeles declared 20 November, Kents birthday, to be Corita Kent Day in honour of her contributions to the city (the city of Boston gave the artist the same honour in 2015). “Especially because of this recent recognition, its important to highlight that once her studio—this critical part of history—is demolished, we cant go backwards,” Scott says.
The Corita Art Center was established as a non-profit organisation when the Immaculate Heart of Mary was given stewardship of Kents estate and archive, which spans moreRead More – Source
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