HAYWARD -- Corita Kent's most famous work has likely been seen by a billion people, and it's not much bigger than a thumbnail.

More accurately, it's exactly the size of a postage stamp, because that's what it is: a 22-cent stamp, issued in 1985, with six bright smears of color stacked atop the word "Love."

While Kent's other works also lend themselves to mass production -- she was a serigraph artist, a master of silk-screen technique -- the U.S. Postal Service sold 700 million of the Love stamps, sheet by sheet, making it one of the top-selling stamps of all time.

Starting Friday, those who'd like to see more work by the former nun and influential pop artist won't have to go far -- a pair of exhibits will showcase hundreds of Kent's pieces at the John O'Lague Galleria in Hayward City Hall and the Castro Valley Public Library Gallery.

The show was made possible by dozens of private collectors who agreed to put their Kent pieces on display.

Exhibit curator Marlene Teel-Heim was a student of Kent's in the late 1960s, and the artist left an indelible impression on her.

"She was a perfectionist," Teel-Heim said. "She would make an assignment to find 100 examples of something, like of how we're aware of world hunger."

Teel-Heim said that it would be easy to get to 25 or so, but Kent made her students delve deeper.

"Once you stretch your mind, and can't think of anything more, that's when the creativity would come," she said. "When you get beyond what you know."

Teel-Heim said Kent was known for pushing the envelope like that, for combining things that at first glance seem unrelated.

For example, Kent, a former Los Angeles-based nun, went through a phase where she incorporated advertising placards from a Los Angeles market near where she lived.

"She'd take an ad for enriched bread, and make a relation to the Eucharist," Teel-Heim said.

Kent worked in bold, vibrant colors with big blocks of text that jump out, but often also with subtle undercurrents written in cursive, sometimes the words of a well-known poet, other times her own.

During the turbulent times of the 1960s and '70s, they took on a more provocative tone, although the brightness of her art was never dimmed.

"She was known as the 'Joyous Revolutionary,' " Teel-Heim said.

Kent died of cancer in 1986 at age 67.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: Corita Celebration
WHERE: John O'Lague Galleria, Hayward City Hall, 777 B St.; Castro Valley Library Gallery, 3600 Norbridge Ave.
WHEN: Hayward show runs Friday through March 17; Castro Valley exhibit opens Feb. 23 and runs through March 7. There also will be a film viewing of "Primary Colors -- The Story of Corita" on Feb. 26 at the Castro Valley venue at
11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and
3:30 p.m.
INFORMATION: More on Corita Kent can be found at www.corita.org.