SISTER CORITA (left) is THE religious artist of the ad-mass society. Kerry Stephenson here writes about her first European Exhibition, which opened in London last week.
"I ,OVE is here to stay
and that's enough." Spelt out in sparkling colour, John Lennon's words act as both the text and the "picture" for one of Sister Mary Corita's serigraphs, now being displayed in London.
Sister Corita, one of the most written about Catholic nuns in America, by preaching about Christ in this unorthodox manner, attracts the interest of both the art and the religion audience.
Her exhibition of silkscreen printed "advertising posters" — the first in Europe — has been sponsored by Heal's, the furnishing people.
Many will be initially puzzled by the serigraphs and their prices (£3 12s. to £35 17s.) But in America and increasingly so in Europe these posters are getting the highest possible praise from art and religious critics.
Sister Corita draws her inspiration from sources diverse as Gertrude Stein, Cardinal Suenens, George Bernard Shaw, Pope Paul and the advertising copy writer for Kellogg's cornflakes.
She comments on love, justice, equality, joy and happiness by cutting out an advertising slogan and i super-imposing over it in a different colour a poetical or theological phrase.
While garish billboards and neons repel most of us, Sister Corita sees Christ in them. To her "Get a Tiger in Your Tank" suggests filling up the "spiritual tank".
To her, life brims with joy and she is constantly transmitting this rapture in her art. "The way Christ did it was great," she says. "He just loved it all to death."
Or, as she says on another poster : "He (Christ) is here and the signs are all around us. The closer He gets, the better you look."
Her upside down, crossways and cascading messages seem obscure at first. Then the viewer's curiosity is captured and gradually the serigraph explains •itself.
The shapes, colours and words are not jumbled, but delicately and lovingly assembled. Without religious images this 49-year-old nun interprets religious meaning in the "here and now" glories of God's world -in the words of the Beatles' songs, the advertising of cereal boxes and the typography of movie magazines.
According to Sister Corita, who heads the art department of the Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, there is nothing in this world which is ugly.
"Mind you, this theory doesn't always work," she says, "but if you try the theory out you block out fewer things than you would, if you just went around looking for what is beautiful or great."
• Sister Corita was too busy to come to London for her exhibition, but some of her cheerfulness and dynamism is conveyed in her correspondence with Miss Lawrence, Heal's exhibition organiser.
One cryptic note says: "Darling, sorry I can't explain what it's all about. You'll just have to wait until the package arrives and figure it out yourself."
It is a pity she hasn't come to London. No doubt, she would have had a busy time explaining her art to the hundreds of teachers and artists expected at the exhibition.
Celebrated on the American scene, she is relatively unknown outside art circles in Britain.
Voted 1966's "Woman of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times, she has been featured in Time, Newsweek and Saturday Evening Post.