The Fierce Women Series

Be Aware, Be Curious, Be Joyous. 

The mainstream drinks industry has the reputation of being a male dominated, notoriously ruthless, profit driven sector. We, at Fierce, by contrast, are a small ethical company, run almost entirely by women, who refuse to compromise our standards or values. That means people and planet are equal to profit, our supply chain is transparent, and we manage growth carefully so that we don’t have to renege on our promise to be sustainable. In our quest to get our botanical tonic into venues across the South East, we have been surprised and disappointed by the plethora of exclusivity contracts and other monopolising tactics that are designed to squeeze out the little producers; but heartened by the bars, venues and shops who have been prepared to fly the Fierce flag. 

One of the reasons we called our company “Fierce” is because you have to be fierce if you want a business model with integrity and gentleness at its heart in a world that increasingly puts profit before humanity. 

But we are proud of the way we work and believe in our product. Already, the distinct quality of our Apothecary Tonic no.1 is beginning to be noticed by some of the UK’s most respected food and wine critics and buyers.  

To this end, we wanted to celebrate the Fierce Women who have stood strong and done something remarkable, in a series of articles on our website. 

In this, the first of our series, Tara Gould throws light on the life and work of artist, educator and nun Corita Kent, whose work sought to spread awareness of social injustice through her remarkable and vibrant silkscreens. One of her mottos was, “Be aware, be curious, be joyous”—an ideal that chimes with us here at Fierce.

On a recent visit to the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft, ambling through the atmospheric and cleverly curated spaces of light and shade, I came across a series of bold, energetic silkscreens, like nothing I had seen before. These graphic poster-like serigraphs use letters, words, visual icons, shapes and forms and luminescent, unapologetic colours that stop you in your tracks.

Sister Carita Kent, artist, educator and Roman Catholic nun made social, political, and protest art in an inimitable pop art style, in Los Angeles, in the 1960s. And 100 years on from her birth, the museum is celebrating her life and work.

At just 18 years old, Corita Kent entered the religious order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, eventually teaching at the Immaculate Heart College and then heading up the art department there. She began making art that was figurative and religious but as the turbulent 1960s gained traction, her work became increasingly political. She wanted to influence social change and create art that she felt would engage a contemporary audience. Influenced by Pop Art and drawing on the newly exploding consumer and pop culture, she used advertising slogans, pop song lyrics, recognisable type faces, as well as verses from literature and the Bible. And although her work often explores challenging and uncomfortable themes and issues, it still explodes with a celebratory and joyful vitality. The work has a graphic simplicity but there are complex and poignant spiritual and emotional messages woven through each piece. This work is layered, and with a deeper subtext which, despite drawing on her spiritual beliefs, digresses from typical religious or Catholic imagery and iconography.

Her contemporaries included Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha, but her endeavour was driven more by a desire to instigate social change, spread awareness and highlight the injustices of war, poverty and racism. Her political and moral principles ran through all areas of her work. She chose to use serigraphy because she wanted her art to be affordable and available to everyone: this form of production allowed low cost creation of multiple screenprints. She also strived to create regularity in the cost and value of her work, so that one piece wasn’t elevated above another depending on the opinion of a critic or buyer.

She was a role model and mentor to her students too and worked tirelessly to tutor, encourage and push them, thrashing out any lazy or self-indulgent tendencies in the most wholehearted manner. As an example, at the bottom of this article, you’ll find her Rules for Making Art—which are useful, inspiring and uncompromising in equal measure! These ten rules were taken up by John Cage and later influenced choreographer Merce Cunningham. These rules urge students to embrace uncertainly, to have a good work ethic, to accept the balance between intellect and intuition and to be open to everything around them.

By the 1960s, Kent’s classes and way of teaching were gaining national notoriety and the Immaculate Heart College had become known as an avant-garde centre for outstanding, innovative artists and creatives. Her work and teaching brought contact with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, composer John Cage, architect Buckminster Fuller, and designers Charles and Ray Eames, who became her friends and champions.

Her enormous talent, and her devotion both to the church and to the students she taught was not enough, however, to persuade the Catholic Church. And although she fought to challenge prejudice, her male superiors in the church never approved of her or the Immaculate Heart College. Tensions between the order and church leadership mounted. The Los Angeles archdiocese criticised the college as “liberal” and Cardinal James McIntyre accused the college of being “communist” and Kent’s work as “blasphemous”. Due to this, she left the order in 1968 so she could continue with her work, which became sparer, and more introspective, influenced perhaps by living in a new secular environment, and by her battles with cancer.

By the 1970s, Kent had exhibited work at hundreds of exhibitions and was included in the collection at the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but in her lifetime and even decades after her death she never received the acclaim and distinction of her male contemporaries. Only in recent years is she being hailed as a Pop Art genius and her work finally being recognised as some of the most important to come out of that period.

Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules:

Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.
Consider everything an experiment.
Be self-disciplined—this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
“We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)
Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything—it might come in handy later.

Should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. Camus

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