Sunday, June 9, 2013

Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent

I visited the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I had just finished checking out the exhibition titled "The First 15" and was exiting the museum when i suddenly caught a glimpse of Corita's art beaming from a high ceiling gallery.  "Someday Is Now: The Art of Corita Kent" is on view till July 28, 2013.  If you're in the area go and see it.

Her art looks like it's been made in single spontaneous moment by a flash of inspired creativity, or by consequence of experimentation.  The process reminds me of Basquiat's, Joe Bradley's, or Matisse's... a process that reinforces the idea of the artist as a vessel.  Her work is so lively, consistent yet varied, and prolific that this exhibition really highlights the spirit behind her art... in other words, the focus is more on her, the artistic force, than any pieces individually.  And that is expressive of how the show is presented... clusters of prints hung salon style up and down the high gallery walls instead of being spaced out one at a time parallel to the floor.

Corita's choice of printmaking has an aesthetic appeal and social purpose.  She hits both dead on.  The flat brightly colored shapes and graphic text that make up her jazzy compositions is a style in such harmony with the medium that its indistinguishable which came first... the visual style necessitated the medium or the medium necessitated the visual style.  Socially, she preferred art that people could afford and experience in places outside of the gallery.  According to the Tang museum... "For Corita, printmaking was a populist medium to communicate with the world around her, and her designs were widely disseminated through billboards, book jackets, illustrations, posters, gift cards, and T-shirts."

So who was Corita?  According to the Tang Museum website...

Someday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent is the first full-scale survey of more than thirty years of work by artist and designer Corita Kent (1918–1986). A teacher at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and a civil rights, feminist, and anti-war activist, Corita, as she is commonly referred to, was one of the most popular American graphic artists of the 1960s and ’70s. Throughout her rich and varied career, she made thousands of posters, murals, and signature serigraphs that combine her passions for faith and politics. Reflecting larger questions and concerns of the 1960s, her images remain iconic symbols of that turbulent time. Corita’s earnest, collaborative approach to art-making—combining faith, politics, and teaching with messages of acceptance and hope—continues to be a potent influence for many artists working today.

[...] she developed her hallmark mixture of bold, bright imagery and provocative texts that she extracted from a range of cultural sources, including: advertising slogans; street and grocery store signage; poetry; scripture; newspapers and magazines; philosophy; theological criticism; and song lyrics. Her ingenious textual amalgams mix the secular and religious, popular culture and fine art, pain and hope, and include quotes from a range of literary and cultural figures [...].
Early Work

The last image I have here is of her last series.  According to a description on the gallery wall at the exhibition... "Corita's move to Boston led to a distinct change in the style of her work.  Suddenly living on her own, without constant interaction with sisters and students, she shifted away from an art of direct social engagement, toward quieter, more introspective statements.  Although still politically engaged, her art grew more contemplative, and personal.  [...]  In the early 1980's she began to paint watercolors outdoors throughout New England.  Corita relished the immediacy of watercolor in contrast with the complex processes of printmaking.  Her last major series, the watercolors represent the final solitary phase of her lifelong engagement with the world."

What a fascinating shift from the colorful, lively, and bold graphics of her prints to these subdued and simple watercolors.  There is some wonderful kind of Truth in these modest, curious, and completely unselfconscious pieces.  To me, this series is like discovering a recording of Jimi Hendrix playing the blues on an acoustic guitar... there is something so personal and revealing about art like this that it almost seems to carry more emotional weight than the experimental eye catching works we normally associate with Corita.

Late Work

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