ROBERT INDIANA was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, on September 13, 1928.
He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1949–53), the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine (summer 1953) and Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art (1953–4), before settling in New York in 1954. There in the late 1950s he began assembling wood sculptures from found materials, often stencilling painted words on to them, as in Moon (h. 1.98 m, 1960; New York, MOMA). He called these works Herms after the quadrangular, stone stelae guardian figures that served as signposts in crossroads in ancient Greece and Rome. Indiana called himself a ‘sign painter’ to suggest the humble origins of his artistic activity in the American work ethic and to indicate his fascination with the use of words in signs. Joining his interest in Americana with the formal and signifying elements of signs, he visualized the superficial and illusory American Dream in paintings characterized by flat bright colours and clearly defined contours influenced by the hard-edge paintings by friends such as Ellsworth Kelly and Jack Youngerman (b 1926).
Indiana’s attention to American themes, use of vibrating bright colour and simple formal configurations and shaped canvases marked him as one of the central figures of American Pop art. He combined the simple Roman numerals and letters found in beckoning American roadside bars and cafés to address serious social issues, as in The Calumet (1961; Waltham, MA, Brandeis U., Rose A. Mus.), a celebration of the bonds of peace that united the Native American Indian tribes before the arrival of European settlers. Following the example of Jasper Johns, Indiana used words in emblems, as in the painting Figure 5 (1963; Washington, DC, N. Mus. Amer. A.), which includes stencilled words within each side of a pentagon: EAT, USA, ERR, DIE and HUG. Indiana was equally drawn to philosophical themes from the writings of American authors such as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Hart Crane, and to the existential aspects of numbers, which he regarded as the basic elements structuring our daily lives, with 1 to 9 representing the spectrum of existence and 0 standing between life and death. His concern for the ‘spiritual concept’ represented by the word LOVE was expressed in paintings such as Love (1966; Indianapolis, IN, Mus. A.) and in related sculptures (e.g. Love, carved aluminium, h. 305 mm, edition of six, 1966; see 1977 exh. cat., p. 24); these became his best-known works, and they came also to be regarded as emblems for the hippie generation of the late 1960s. In 1978 he left New York to settle on the remote island of Vinalhaven off the coast of Maine.
Robert Indiana : ehava, 1993, ed25, serigraph, 33 x 31