Robert Indiana (New Castle, Indiana, USA 1928 – Vinalhaven, ME, USA, 2018).
Indiana was born Robert Earl Clark in New Castle, Indiana, on September 13, 1928. He once referred to “Robert Indiana” as his “nom de plume” and said it was the only name he cared to go by. The adopted name suits him, as his tumultuous childhood was spent moving frequently. Indiana says he lived in more than 20 different homes within the state.
His artistic talent was noticed from an early age, which encouraged him to pursue a creative career. After graduating, he spent three years in the U.S. Air Force and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine, and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. In 1956, Indiana met Ellsworth Kelly and, upon his recommendation, took up residence in Coenties Slip in New York. There he joined a community of artists that would come to include Kelly, Agnes Martin, and James Rosenquist. Quickly gaining fame for his assemblages, Indiana was featured in influential New York shows at the Museum of Modern Art. 1966 marked a turning point in Indiana’s career with the success of his LOVE image, a now-iconic symbol.
Best known for sign-like paintings and sculpture, Robert Indiana worked with many numbers and short words in his work, including EAT, HUG, and LOVE. In 1964, he created a 20-foot “EAT” sign for the New York World’s Fair that was made of flashing lights. In 1966, he began experimenting with the word “LOVE,” and the image of the letters arranged in a square, with “LO” and “VE” on top of each other, with “O” tilted on its side, was soon featured in many paintings and sculptures that can still be seen today around the world. The first Love sculpture was made for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1970.
The 1973 Love Stamp was one of the most widely distributed Pop Art images ever (300 million were issued), but his subject matter is drawn from decidedly un-Pop American literature and poetry.
As one of the most influential figures in American art, Indiana played a central role in developing assemblage art, hard-edge painting, and Pop art. A self-proclaimed “American painter of signs,” Indiana has created a highly original body of work that explores American identity, personal history, and the power of abstraction and language, establishing an important legacy that resonates in the work of many contemporary artists.
By the time of his 2013 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Indiana’s reputation as a Pop artist had been re-evaluated, with critics recognizing that his signs and symbols were more nuanced than first appreciated and had inflected Pop art with a potent vision of the American Dream. Today, his works are held in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., among others.