MORAGA, CA – The exhibition, Hold it Lightly, will open at Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA), featuring original printed matter by artist and designer Lisa Congdon. On view from September 13 through December 10, 2023, the exhibition marks Congdon’s first solo museum debut. Hold it Lightly features fifty-seven serigraphs created and displayed in dialogue with work by the 1960s pop artist Corita Kent. Opening concurrently with Corita’s heroes & sheroes series, Hold it Lightly brings forward Congdon’s graphic designs conveying messages and symbols of radical love and hope.
Congdon (b. 1968) is a Portland-based artist, designer, writer, and activist who infuses art with joy and vibrancy through her bright colors and hand lettering. The exhibition Hold it Lightly connects many influences in Congdon’s development. Growing up in Northern California, she attended Saint Mary’s College of California, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1990. When first entering the exhibition, visitors will encounter a gallery featuring ephemera and social memories of Congdon that contextualize her creative growth and development at the College. Beyond this space, the hand-painted murals and designs of Hold it Lightly showcase serigraphs reflecting both Congdon’s signature designs and new original work. Bringing forward concepts of play, three dimensional works on paper and board accompany the exhibition. Congdon’s serigraphs speak to the impact of Corita’s art practices, highlighting the visual language of love, play, and acceptance through messaging and symbols.
“Ben Shahn once referred to Corita as a Joyous Revolutionary, and this is something that resonated with me. I’ve always understood art, including my own, to reflect the human struggle,” Congdon stated. “For a long time, I existed in a place of disconnect since I felt to be taken seriously my work needed to be dark or edgy. As humans, we want to make everything sit at opposite ends of the binary. To be a revolutionary, someone who cares about how they show up in the broken world, and to be joyful, means sitting in this gray area where both can exist. Corita is not only a role model in this area but also through her approach to making art, providing a space for me to feel that joyful work could be playful and serious.”
In the series Radical Acceptance, Radical Inclusion, Radical Joy, and Radical Love hand-drawn typography radiates the entire design with a united rhythm through irregular layering. Congdon pairs these hand-lettered affirmations with universal symbols shaping resilience, community, courage, and harmony. The bright imagery takes shape through the balancing of forms and fauna of birds, waves, butterflies, and tigers through a refined palette of blue, pink, black, white, and gray that unite the overall series.
The exhibition’s signature image, Hold it Lightly, features the careful balance of colors and shapes reflecting the message’s meaning, a practice Congdon began embracing in February 2023. From an Instagram post, Congdon expanded on the message. “Here’s how that works: have the goal but hold it lightly; have the dream but hold it lightly; love the friend and hold her lightly… Holding it lightly reminds me to breathe, chill, loosen, soften, let go.”
Congdon’s choice of printed matter responds directly to Corita's printmaking application of serigraphs. Also known as silk screens, serigraphs often involve an artist working with an off-site printmaker, a process that both Corita and Lisa employed. As opposed to paintings, prints are a democratic medium, inherently producing multiples through affordable means accessible to the masses. Congdon’s approach to silkscreen reflects the current era and integration of technologies in design. Her process begins with digital drawings, which are then transformed into multi-color, layered serigraphs. Corita’s influence of pulling images, song lyrics, and newspaper clippings from the 1960s and juxtaposing these materials to create images of hope and love is reenvisioned through Lisa’s Hold it Lightly series. This series speaks to cultural movements and reimagining iconography in the 2020s.
“We are honored to organize the first solo museum exhibition featuring work by Lisa Congdon. Lisa’s imagery marks a radical shift in 21st-century American design. Her ability to reshape universal symbols to resonate with contemporary culture enables her work to inspire students and visitors in a unique way,” states Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art Executive Director Lauren MacDonald.
Hold it Lightly is accompanied by a catalogue, the first exhibition monograph for the artist, published in collaboration with Brown Printing, Inc. in Portland, OR. All original serigraphs are printed in collaboration with Nicholas Bittakis and his staff at Seizure Palace Printing. Hold it Lightly is organized by Lauren MacDonald and Britt Royer. The exhibition is presented in conversation with heroes & sheroes organized by the Corita Art Center of Los Angeles, corita.org.
An opening reception will be held on September 14 from 4 to 8 p.m. This event is free and open to all. A VIP Reception and fundraising event will be held on September 13 from 6 to 8 p.m. will feature a silent auction of Hold it Lightly serigraphs with a paired wine tasting. Tickets are available through the museum website. On September 15 at 2 p.m., join us for an artist talk with Lisa Congdon. A complete list of programming will be found at stmarys-ca.edu/museum.
About Lisa Congdon
Lisa Congdon is an internationally known fine artist, illustrator and bestselling author. She makes art for clients around the globe, including Target, Amazon, Google, Schwinn, Madewell, Rumpl, The Library of Congress, Brooks Running, Warby Parker, Method, Comme des Garcons, REI and MoMA, among many others. She is the author of ten books, including Art Inc: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist and Find Your Artistic Voice: The Essential Guide to Working Your Creative Magic. She exhibits internationally, including solo shows at Saint Mary's College Museum of Art (California), Chefas Projects (Oregon), and Paradigm Gallery (Philadelphia), along with group shows at Hashimoto Contemporary in Los Angeles, Museum of Design Atlanta, and The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Lisa is self-taught and didn’t achieve momentum in her career until she was nearly 40 years old. Despite her untraditional path, Lisa has achieved recognition, not just as an artist, but as a leader in the industry for her work in social justice, knowledge sharing, mentoring, and teaching. In March of 2021, she was named “One of the 50 Most Inspiring People and Companies According to Industry Creatives,” published by AdWeek. When she's not making art, you can find her racing bikes. She lives, cycles, and works in Portland, Oregon. To learn more, please visit lisacongdon.com or @lisacongdon on social media.
About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA)
Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA) is a landmark for art in Northern California, with a permanent collection of over 5,000 objects. Inspired by its founder, Brother Cornelius Braeg, the museum cares for the nation's most comprehensive collection of William Keith paintings. The museum offers educational and programming opportunities with rotating exhibitions twice a year for the College and the surrounding community. SMCMoA is located across the street from the Soda Activity Center at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, CA. Programs and admission are free for all. Public tours begin in September and will be offered Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Please contact the Saint Mary's College Museum of Art at 925-631-4379 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries. More information can be found at stmarys-ca.edu/museum or by following us on social media @smcmoa.
About Saint Mary’s College of California
At Saint Mary’s College of California, we inspire minds, engage with the world, and create opportunities for students to find their lives transformed. With small class sizes and professors who know you by name, the Saint Mary’s experience empowers students to thrive—whether you’re an undergraduate or a professional looking for the next step in your career. Founded in 1863, the University is proud of our Lasallian heritage and how it fuels teaching and learning in an inclusive and wonderfully diverse community. More than 3,600 Gaels study on our Bay Area campus nestled in the rolling hills of Moraga, just 23 miles east of San Francisco. US News and World Report puts SMC among the top five regional universities in the West. You’ll also find Saint Mary’s highlighted in the guide Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change The Way You Think About Colleges—the only Catholic college and the only university in California to make the list.
All photography by Francis Tatem.