Robert Indiana is one of the most recognized living artists of the Pop Art movement, whose “Love” series of paintings, sculpture, prints, graphic art, costumes and stamps has become iconic Americana. Born in Indiana on September 13, 1928, Robert Clark was adopted as an infant and moved frequently as a child, finally settling in Indianapolis with his father. As many masters before him, Indiana’s artistic talent was recognized and encouraged at an early age and by fourteen years old, he began attending the Arsenal Technical High School, a school placed great emphasis on the arts. Upon graduation, Robert Indiana served three years in the US Air Force after which he continued studying art at three schools in Chicago, Maine and Scotland.
Robert Indiana moved to New York and in 1956 met another icon of the Pop Art movement, Ellsworth Kelly. Soon thereafter he joined a commune of artists including James Rosenquist and Jack Youngerman in a residence known as Coenties Slip, in southern Manhattan. The artists began scavenging abandoned warehouses for discarded materials and a set of 19th century brass stencils further led Indiana into developing a style of his own using bright colors, numbers and short which became incorporated into his works. It was at this time in the Slip that the artist changed his last name from Clark to Indiana, in honor of his native home state.
In the early 1960’s, Robert Indiana was featured in several shows in New York which further propelled him into being recognized as one of the most creative artists of his time. The Museum of Modern Art acquired his work The American Dream (1961) which was a series of paintings that explored the theme of the illusionary American Dream. The artist further distinguished himself by addressing political and social issues while incorporating literary references into his art. In 1964 Indiana designed a lighted 20 foot sign, “Eat” , for the New York State Pavilion at the World’s Fair while working with the artist Andy Warhol on a short film, “Eat” which depicts Indiana eating a mushroom at The Coenties Slip studio.
Perhaps Robert Indiana’s most iconic image is the “Love” work from 1966 which marked a turning point in the artist’s career. The word “Love” first appeared in his works in 1961 as it was a significant for the artist, influenced by the inscription on the Christian Science churches he attended as a young boy. Eventually, the four-letter word was stacked and began incorporating a hard edge on canvas with different color variations including red, blue and green. The image of the word love was arranged in a square, with “LO” stacked above ”VE”, with a tilted letter O. In 1965, The Museum of Modern Art selected “Love” for its Christmas Card and the work quickly became emblematic of the “Love Generation”. In 1973 The United States Postal Service reproduced the image to be used on a stamp and the popularity of the image used in countless iterations since emphasizes how it continues to resonated with audiences.
In 1978, Robert Indiana left New York for a more remote life in Maine, moving to a Victorian building where he set up a studio and began work on the local experience. He created a suite of eighteen large paintings, The Hartley Elegies, and additionally created sculptures from found objects entitled Ash and Mars. In 2001 the artist expanded upon his American Dream series while referencing his past by completing The Ninth American Dream.
In 2008 Indiana created yet another variation on the “Love” theme for the presidential campaign for Barack Obama, showcasing instead the word “Hope”. All of the proceeds from the sale of the iconic image were donated to the campaign, raising over one million dollars. A “Hope” sculpture made of stainless steel was unveiled during the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Obama campaign sold posters, pins, bumper stickers and t-shirts of the work.
Today Robert Indiana’s works can be found in private and public collections as well as museums around the world including The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as well as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum. His works have continued to ascend in value and in 2011 a 12 foot version of the “Love” sculpture sold for 4.1 million dollars.