On Corita Kent’s International Signal Code Alphabet

As part of the celebrations of what would have been designer and nun Corita Kent’s 100th birthday, a monograph of her International Sign Alphabet, which reimagined the possibilities of lettering and signs, is being published

Atelier Éditions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet spread

The publication of the monograph by Atelier Éditions, in collaboration with the Corita Art Center, coincides with a major exhibition on Corita Kent’s work at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft in Sussex.

The current interest in Kent’s work – which had an emphasis on both social issues and activism – is timely, says Ditchling Museum curator Donna Steele. “It’s hard to ignore the similarities between the 1960s cultural climate and that of the current day,” she says. “The names, details and dates may have changed, but the social and political issues and concerns remain the same and are once again heightened.”

Known to many as the ‘graphic design nun’, Kent was an activist, artist and educator who was indeed a nun for most of her life, and worked at the art teaching department at the religious order Immaculate Heart of Mary in LA. There, she worked mainly in printmaking and drew the likes of Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Saul Bass and the Eames to her classes.

Atelier Editions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet cover
Atelier Editions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet spread

In 1968, Kent sought dispensation from her vows having become exhausted from an intense carousel of exhibiting her work across America alongside her lecturing and teaching duties (as well as a few fallings out with the arch diocese).

Relocating to Cape Cod, she created the International Signal Code Alphabet series of serigraph pieces, which merge lettering and signs with snippets of text, bold colours and textures, many of which bear the influence of her new coastal surroundings.

The works demonstrate Kent’s longstanding commitment to merging various sources, from overheard conversations to advertising iconography to religious symbolism and pop culture, now with added multicoloured maritime flags. Quotes from Leonard Cohen and George Harrison, lyrics from The Doors, and passages from kids’ books such as Winnie-the-Pooh – alongside those from the Book of Revelation – all get a look-in.

Atelier Editions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet spread

The quality of these new works differed from the more DIY aesthetic of the printing at the Immaculate Heart College workshop. Kent began to print these works at a professional studio, which added more vibrancy to the tones. For many letters, she deliberately played with and pushed what these symbols were and how we read the forms: take ‘Q for cutie pie’, for instance.

The series of 26 kaleidoscopic serigraphs that make up Kent’s Signal Code Alphabet are drawn together in the Atelier Editions cloth bound hardcover monograph, which is priced at $50.

Atelier Editions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet spread
Atelier Editions, Corita Kent International Signal Code Alphabet spread

atelier-editions.com

GROUP GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Bedford, Bedfordshire