Kent’s teaching methods were unique as she was often seen with her students holding up small viewfinders on field trips while observing local street signs, supermarket shelves, and shop window advertisements. This allowed her students to focus on particular elements of a sign or advertisement rather than the entirety of everything that was around them. She encouraged her students to find inspiration in their surroundings. This level of observation is evident in her own work as she treats signs and logos as objects that can be cropped, bent and obscured. Their original context fearlessly dismissed.
Her sculptural manipulation of text implies that language has the ability to be transformative and fluid. She overlaps, rotates, and inverts text until it morphs into something entirely new. Her work is visually stunning as vibrant letterforms, logos, and slogans command our attention and demand a closer look.
In 1964 and 1965 Kent created a series of screen prints inspired by the Wonder Bread logo and its iconic red, yellow, blue, and white color scheme. In this series of prints, the logo and slogan commands the picture plane, but upon closer inspection, the handwritten quotes that surround it denote a deeper meaning. Wonder Bread becomes a metaphor for the Eucharist and the importance of bread to feed those in need. In Kent’s print Round Wonder, the handwritten scrawl is absent and the words “Round Wonder” are encapsulated in a circular frame. The simplified use of shape, color, and text is simultaneously signifying the importance of the communion host and asking the viewer to marvel at something larger than they are. This is what sets her apart from contemporaries such as Andy Warhol. Her work borrows from popular culture, but in her hands, the meaning is re-contextualized to raise social awareness and ask us to connect to powerful concepts such as love, hope, and peace.
Corita Kent’s prolific use of the screen printing medium stems from her commitment to make art that was accessible in terms of affordability and visibility. It is an inherently democratic medium that allows an artist to create identical multiple original prints of the same image that can be disseminated to a large audience at minimal cost to the buyer. Kent wanted her work and its message to reach as many people as possible. This method of art making enabled her to do just that.
Screen printing, also known as silkscreen, or serigraphy is a printmaking process where an artist creates a stencil using hand cut or photographic methods on the surface of a prepared screen. This screen is made of a tightly woven mesh stretched and adhered around a wood or aluminum frame. Ink is then pushed or pulled through the stencil with a squeegee onto a substrate such as paper or fabric. The process can seem rigid and limiting, but once a stencil is applied to a screen that screen can then be rotated and printed in many ways with a variety of colors to achieve dramatically different results.
There is an immediacy to working this way that allows for playful exploration. Kent approaches screen printing much like a collage, bringing in various graphic elements and overlapping them to achieve the desired results. The screen printing process allowed her to manipulate the orientation and placement of the text on the paper to achieve the distinct look of overlapping color and text that is evident in much of her work.
In a world of digital programs that quickly and perfectly warp, stretch and invert all manner of visual forms, Corita Kent's work feels fresh and tangible. The artist's hand is evident in the cut stencils and hand written text that dominates her work. The ink on the paper is a physical record of the moment she pulled ink across the screen. Her prints carry with them a powerful history whose message of love, peace, hope and social justice will always be needed.
Jasmine Delgado, Assistant Professor of Art, California State University Channel Islands, Camarillo, CA. Jasmine Delgado is a printmaker, educator, consumer, and self proclaimed visual historian raised in the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles. She currently teaches Screen Printing, Visual Technologies, and 2D Foundations. Her cultural background and her obsessive love of Los Angeles signage, architecture and iconography are the basis for her artwork.