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Painting Pop-Art Icon Corita Kent on a Guitar

In the beginning of this year, I participated in the coolest project! Along with 30 other San Diego artists, I was offered to design a guitar for a non-profit fundraiser. This is the first project of this kind for me, so I was thrilled to get to work!

The guitars

The guitars donated by a private donor are EVH Wolfgang Standard electric guitars designed by late Eddie Van Halen. Not that I’m a big fan, although I appreciate the musicianship. But It’s such a significant coincidence that now we can pay tribute to Eddie Van Halen with this project as well.

The subject and inspiration

ArtReach team liked my series of influential women, so this guitar was decided to be a part of this series and commemorate Corita Kent – an iconic pop artist and a Catholic nun from the 50s and 60s. I won’t bore you with the details about her in this video. You can read about my inspiration and research on Corita’s life and work in this blog post.

It’s a bummer that today not that many people know who she was. So it was a little challenging to choose the right recognizable reference photo. Also, I reserved the curved part of the guitar for her face as it was the biggest spot that won’t be covered with electric parts, plates, screws, and other stuff. So, I needed a photo that would look good on the curved surface. I narrowed down my list to these three.

Prepping the guitar

The ArtReach team did a great job prepping the guitars, so the artists wouldn’t have to worry about breaking any delicate equipment. All the electric parts were taken off and all the spots that weren’t supposed to be painted were carefully taped off.

So I was ok to use my electric sander. I used a sand block to get into those nooks and crannies. And then I spray painted the entire guitar body with a white primer from a hardware store. I didn’t want to use gesso. For whatever reason I thought the primer will be more durable. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s my first guitar after all…

Then I did a couple of sketches right on the guitar to see which one I like better.

Painting process, composition, and references

And here’s the fun part! I used regular acrylic paints for this project. It worked just fine on top of the primer. Here’s the halfway through painting the front side.

Words

Corita was using words, quotes, song lyrics, poems, ad slogans in her work. They were primary elements of her designs. So I wanted to incorporate some of the quotes she used.

I’m super grateful to the team of Corita Center in LA for their kind help with my research for this project and for permissions to use 3 fragments of Corita’s artwork as a collage.

I liked this E.E. Cummings poem I found one of her posters. So I freehanded it just like she used to.

…and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

E.E. Cummings

I also used another quote from one of her posters that actually gave the name to this guitar: The only god love we know is human love. It just perfectly describes Corita’s legacy and my inspiration for this project.

35mm finders

These white squares that I painted on the guitar are a reference to Corita’s work as an art teacher. She encouraged her students to look through 35mm square cutouts to find small sections of beautiful shapes and colors in everything they saw around them. She called them finders.

Hot air balloons

It took me a while to figure out what I want to do on the backside of the guitar. I wanted to make some references to Southern California where she lived and worked for most of her life. So I painted hills and hot air balloons – the images I used in one of my older paintings inspired by those balloon rides in California Valleys. I just looove seeing them here in San Diego!

Epoxy

Now I needed a final protective coat. At the moment, I thought the clear epoxy was a great idea! I wanted it to look polished and shiny like professionally made guitars. Now I’d say it was a terrible idea! It took me several days of coating, sending, fixing drips, and coating again to make it look nice. I should have filmed it… But I was so frustrated with it I didn’t even think about setting up the camera. There are still some minor imperfections that I just finally decided to let go of. I was so exhausted! I have no idea how perfectionists survive in this world.

See her live!

Of course, the COVID pandemic has changed the plans for fundraising activities. The auction and the ArtWalk were postponed for a few months. But the auction is live now! Follow these links to see the guitars, read about the artists, and hey, bid on those you like! It’s for the good cause.

If you are in San Diego, you can see any of the guitars in person at the ArtReach office. You just need to make an appointment by emailing the project coordinator Anna Laroque anna@artreachsandiego.org.

And the city of San Diego approved the outdoor ArtWalk on November 7-8 with a lot of safety measures, hopefully, it will take place.

This is what she looks like fully assembled by professionals. And she sounds great, too!

So go check out the auction, read more about Corita Kent on my blog, and subscribe to my YouTube channel!

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