We expect our artists to be a certain type – somewhat louche, a little bit leery and slightly left of centre. They should certainly not look like accountants, IT engineers or hedge fund managers but rather should conform to our notional characterisation. But we certainly don’t want or expect them to be wearing a nun’s habit or a priest’s collar. Heck we’d rather have a bearded lady-man singing an antiphon for Europe instead.
But there was a time when our view of who could be deemed an artist was far less conformist and the boundaries didn’t matter as much as they often do now.
Indeed not so long ago we even viewed clergy very differently. Priests were at the vanguard. They led protests, manned barricades in Latin American political struggles, campaigned for justice and equality for the poor and underprivileged. They embraced the change blowing through society in the 1960s and challenged the political establishment and that of their own hierarchical churches swept open in part by the Second Vatican Council. Soon they disported themselves in mufti and went native. Times have changed. Nowadays we have strong views on what members of the clergy can and cannot do. This of course is filtered through the contemporary horrors of systemic clerical child abuse.
But during the shifting dissembling world of the 1960s one nun became deeply associated with the Avant-garde in art and its possibilities. The current show at the Douglas Hyde Gallery re-focuses on the work, writings and teachings of Sister Mary Corita Kent. After spending 32 years in a convent in Hollywood she left to dedicate herself to the pursuit of art practice and teaching. She toured America giving lectures and helping others to create art. She is now cited as an influence on other more recent artists. Her own work recalls a simpler time of gestural art and simplistic statements. Yet strangely in the wake of current events in Gaza, Aleppo and Mosul her art and screen-printed statements of simple humanity seem strangely potent again.
All photos courtesy of Douglas Hyde Gallery. Installation photo Davey Moor. Sister Corita B&W reproduction the Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community, Los Angeles.