This essay of mine is featured in the new book I Heart Design: Remarkable Graphic Design Selected by Designers, Illustrators, and Critics, edited by the great Steven Heller.
When I first moved to Los Angeles I would take long runs high into the hills around my Hollywood house to learn the lay and splay of the land—to clear my head from the unsettling visual cacophony of this strange city, where beauty existed uncomfortably close with ugliness.
Almost every day I ran by the Immaculate Heart College, oblivious to its significance, until one day I noticed a tiny sign on the gate written in what looked like hastily-dashed script: Corita.
For 20 years during the ‘60s and ‘70s a Catholic nun named Sister Mary Corita Kent ran a tiny printmaking studio here that became an internationally-recognized art institution, one visited by Buckminster Fuller, Saul Bass, Charles Eames. Her messages of peace and love were tempered with a raw, visual urgency, ushering in a new language of democratized design which would influence an era of protest banners and pop art. In the spring her students organized a massive public art show on the school’s lawn for Mary’s Day, unfurling banners out the windows and stacking silkscreened cardboard boxes into towers, as they whirled between them in a pastel blur of sundresses and hats sewn from daisies.
Kent took her cues from what she called “marvelously unfinished Los Angeles,” gathering imagery from field trips to car washes and supermarkets. The serigraph highly prized was ripped quite literally from the streets of L.A., slathered in traffic-cone orange paint, and transformed into an appropriately-messy, hand-scrawled celebration of urbanity, freedom and hope. All this, I marveled, happened right up the street from where I lived.
Years later I attended a Mary’s Day celebration. Wearing floral dress and carrying a screenprinted sign, I walked onto that same grassy hill poised at the edge of the endless gray grid and gazed out over the city I which I now so proudly called my home. It was Corita Kent’s radical work that taught me how to truly embrace Los Angeles, for all its freeways and freakishness, all its ugliness and unfinishedness. This serigraph now hangs in my living room.
You can buy the book I Heart Design: Remarkable Graphic Design Selected by Designers, Illustrators, and Critics or watch this video to find out what other designers selected. Learn more about Sister Mary Corita Kent at the Corita Art Center or see a clip of a short film about her by Aaron Rose with numbers designed by Keith Scharwath.