Upon entering There Will Be New Rules Next Week I was greeted with a powerful ten-point compendium of advice titled The Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules.
This set the tone for this print exhibition which brought colour and text to walls of Dundee Contemporary Arts during the inaugural Print Festival Scotland. The rules were developed by the lead artist of the exhibition, Sister Corita Kent (1918 – 1986), an activist nun who ran the art department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles for over 20 years.
I found these rules woven into the exhibition in a myriad of forms. Strands were found printed blatantly on cardboard boxes that built a wall of words, I watched a classroom discussion that featured the rules in the short film ‘We Have No Art’ and I discovered elements of the rules present in the work of the five contemporary artists chosen to display alongside Sister Corita Kent in this exhibition.
Ruth Ewan’s direct print Nae Rules at first seems to be in direct juxtaposition to Kent’s teaching, but on reflection it also manages to resonate with Kent’s message that the rules are in constant flux and there will be new rules next week.
The fluidity of these rules is also evident in Ciara Phillips screenprint A Lot of Things Put Together that manages to convey both a rigid, repetitive style, alongside a sense of flowing movement. Her layered cotton screen creates an strong impact in the space, yet captures a freshness in spirit akin to what remains in Kent’s work decades after creation.
Emily Floyd’s hanging installation of Nomadic Shepherds also worked with the layers of colour in space and forced me to explore her work from numerous angles, thus not remaining content with a single view of how things should exist.
Whereas Peter Davies largely scathing and satirical painting ‘Why is British Art So Crap’ throws the optimistic and faithful spirit found in Kent’s rules out. Casting a more despondent tone of rebellion against both the overall exhibition, and the British art world as a whole.
Exploring this exhibition was an uplifting experience, as Sister Corita Kents striking prints commanded me to revel both in the layered beauty of the printed word, and the direct messages they conveyed in pieces such as Life is Difficult (1965) and People Like Us Yes (1965).
So it was surprising to discover that although Sister Corita Kent was recognised by revolutionary design thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames and Saul Bass, she was largely neglected by the art establishment at the time. However, this quirky 1960s pop artist’s list of admirers has continued to grow in time and the work crafted by the five contemporary artists (Ruth Ewan, Peter Davies, Ciara Phillips, Emily Floyd and Scott Myles) confirm that Kent’s lasting impression on art has remained, whilst the medium of printmaking has gained fresh appreciation in contemporary art.
Words & Images © Hazel Saunderson