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Robert Indiana

American Artist

Movements and Styles: Pop Art, Minimalism, Hard-edge Painting

Born: Born: September 13, 1928 - New Castle, Indiana

Robert Indiana Timeline

Quotes

"I've always been fascinated by numbers. Before I was seventeen years old, I had lived in twenty-one different houses. In my mind, each of those houses had a number."
Robert Indiana
"Some people like to paint trees. I like to paint love. I find it more meaningful than trees."
Robert Indiana
"My goal is that LOVE should cover the world."
Robert Indiana
"I had no idea LOVE would catch on the way it did. Oddly enough, I wasn't thinking at all about anticipating the Love generation and hippies. It was a spiritual concept. It isn't a sculpture of love any longer. It's become the very theme of love itself."
Robert Indiana
"I was the least Pop of all Pop artists."
Robert Indiana
"I am an American painter of signs charting the course. I would be a people's painter as well as a painter's painter."
Robert Indiana

"I have always thought of my work as being celebratory. Let's say it's the three C's - commemorative, celebratory, and colorful."

Robert Indiana Signature

Synopsis

Best known for his iconic LOVE series, which has been reproduced in formats ranging from large public sculptures to postage stamps, Robert Indiana explores the American experience using everyday objects and language. With his hard-edge painting, bold colors, and popular imagery, he is often associated with Pop art, but Indiana rejects this label; indeed, beyond the visual lightheartedness are levels of personal and political meaning which are often dark or critical. His work integrates non-art materials, ordinary language, and commercially-inspired graphic designs with more traditional elements of fine art, elevating the viewer's daily experience and folding it into a history of art and American identity.

Key Ideas

An admirer of early twentieth-century American modernism, Indiana reflected on the questions of national identity posed by artists such as Marsden Hartley, Charles Demuth, and Edward Hopper; in particular, he builds upon their use of the familiar, the ordinary, or the industrial, to transform popular sources into fine art. The American dream is often cast as an elusive and somewhat tragic quest, filled with eye-catching slogans and advertising graphics.
Common language appears throughout Indiana's work, which is often layered with coded meanings, coming from Indiana's biography or classical and literary sources. These texts closely resemble advertisements; yet while they act like ads or billboards, they often subtly critique popular culture and consumerism.
Deceptively simple, Indiana's ordinary images and commercial style appear similar to Pop art, yet his work is layered with references from art history and a deeply personal iconography that complicates their generic execution. Overtly political and socially engaged, Indiana interrogated consumerism and mass culture, explicitly criticizing ideals treated more ambiguously by most Pop artists.

Most Important Art

Robert Indiana Famous Art

Hole (1960)

Hole (1960) is a free-standing sculpture composed of a wooden rectangular column measuring almost four feet tall; near the base protrudes a wooden rod, while iron wheels are attached on both the right and left face of the column, at the same height. Two arrows, one in red and one in yellow, draw the viewer's eye to a small indented hole found near the top of the work, below which the word "HOLE" appears in black letters on a yellow stripe.

The work is one of a series of wooden sculptures Indiana made shortly after his move to Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan. Located along the East River, the area was home to shipyards and abandoned warehouses, which provided a wealth of discarded objects such as the scraps of wood and metal that the artist assembled to create work such as this. Indiana called these sculptures "herms," having drawn inspiration from ancient Greek pillars used to mark intersections and roads that featured the head of the mythological god Hermes. Although we often consider Indiana's work in relation to Pop art because of its use of commercial and readymade materials, the herms are most akin to the combines of his neighbor and contemporary Robert Rauschenberg, a Neo-Dada artist; both used similar refuse materials to create hybrid sculptures.

Importantly, the "herms" mark Indiana's first use of words in his art; as this would become an important theme in his oeuvre. While some Pop artists used words to mimic commercial products or popular culture, as an amateur poet, Indiana's interest in literature often makes literary references in his use of language. In this work, "Hole" is the name of a town, a destination for a father and son bicycle ride in Samuel Beckett's Molloy. Many of Indiana's herms weave together layers of potential meaning, bringing together classical, modern, and humorous references; in doing so, he creates a dialogue between popular, contemporary culture and the high culture of traditional, even classical, art. Commonplace materials and language are transformed to be new vehicles for the continuation of art history. In this piece, the wheels (which he included in many of the herms) suggest not just the bicycle wheels of Beckett's story, but also serve as metaphorical representations of the god's winged sandals, while the protruding wooden peg makes an almost comical reference to male genitalia.
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Robert Indiana Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Robert Indiana was adopted as an infant by Earl Clark and Carmen Watters Clark and named Robert Earl Clark. He grew up in a financially unstable environment, as his father held a wide range of jobs, from an oil executive to pumping gas. When Indiana was nine, his parents divorced and his mother went to work; her time as a diner waitress would be influential to Indiana's artistic career. A free spirit, his mother frequently moved; by age seventeen, Indiana had lived in twenty-one different locations.

Indiana's early interest in art was initially encouraged by his first grade teacher, who thrilled him when she asked to keep a few of his drawings because she knew he would be a famous artist one day. Forty years later, Indiana visited this teacher who showed him the saved drawings; he then signed them again as a successful artist.

Graduating high school in 1946, Indiana enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, intending to fund his college studies through the G.I. Bill. In 1949, with his service complete, he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago and also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland before earning his B.F.A. in 1954.

Early Training

Although Indiana originally planned to settle in Chicago upon his return from Europe in 1954, his lack of funds kept him in New York. Once there, his job at an art supply store led to a fortuitous 1956 meeting with the artist Ellsworth Kelly who entered the store to purchase a postcard that Indiana had used in a window display. The two became romantically involved and Kelly both encouraged him to move to the Coenties Slip area of lower Manhattan and to begin creating hard-edge paintings.

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Robert Indiana Biography Continues

The move, which brought him into a community of artists, proved highly influential to Indiana's work. Discarded materials, including metal, wheels, and pieces of wood, from the neighborhood's abandoned shipyards and warehouses were used to make some of his earliest "herms" sculptures. The discovery of a box of nineteenth century brass stencils in a friend's loft inspired him to include his first words into his works. These materials would define Indiana's approach and give him the tools to integrate the ordinary and common into a history of fine art; words became a way to layer meaning and to blend the personal with the universal. Taken with understanding American identity, especially through popular culture, the artist redefined himself, changing his last name to "Indiana" in honor of his home state.

Mature Period

Robert Indiana Biography

Words became a prominent theme in Indiana's work. While his graphic style and use of popular language were similar to the artists of the new Pop art movement, Indiana was uncomfortable with this label. He did interact with the group, including an appearance in Andy Warhol's 35 minute film Eat (1963) (which featured Indiana eating one single mushroom), but ultimately, Indiana distinguished himself from the main Pop movement through the autobiographical nature of his work and in creating art that overtly addressed contemporary political and social themes, such as the struggle for Civil Rights.

In 1966, Indiana exhibited his first "LOVE" works, which featured the word itself, stacked in two rows with the "O" slightly tilted. While simple, the word made a powerful statement at a time of national and international unrest. Embraced the world over, "LOVE" proved a source of inspiration even for John Lennon. While viewing an exhibition of Indiana's prints, Lennon responded to a comment that love was surrounding him by replying "All you need is love." This statement would amplify Indiana's message, becoming the title for the Beatle's hit song in 1967 and an indelible and still-popular slogan.

Proud to be "a people's painter," Indiana is proficient in many media. In addition to his well-known sculpted versions of LOVE, he has made prints and posters, designed costumes and sets for the opera The Mother of Us All, and even created the floor design for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin's MECCA Arena basketball court in 1997.

Later Period

Robert Indiana Photo

A fiercely private person, Indiana moved to Maine's remote Vinalhaven Island in 1978. Despite his physical retreat, his work is still deeply inspired by contemporary events and activist in nature. In response to September 11, he created the painting Afghanistan (2001) and boarded up the windows on the first floor of his home to paint them with images of the American flag. America's 2003 invasion of Iraq inspired his Peace Paintings series. In 2008, Indiana made an artistic statement of support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign with the print HOPE, created in the same graphic style as his "LOVE" works.

Indiana's importance as an artist was affirmed in 2013 with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It was his first major show in New York City, and it marked a coming home of sorts for the artist.


Legacy

Robert Indiana Portrait

Although often having expressed reluctance in being so categorized, Robert Indiana's art greatly shaped the Pop art movement. While his hard-edge style and appropriation have much in common with his Pop peers, he transcended the classification. Through his use of non-art materials and the incorporation of words into his art, he has laid the foundation for many contemporary artists such as Glenn Ligon and Jenny Holzer, not only in their use of text and media, but in their activism as well. He provided an example of how to create work that was both deeply personal and universal, work with a clear message that could also be open to interpretation, work that spoke of its own time and reflected on contemporary events, but also carried a message to future generations.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Robert Indiana
Interactive chart with Robert Indiana's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Charles DemuthCharles Demuth
Charles SheelerCharles Sheeler
Edward HopperEdward Hopper

Friends

Jack YoungermanJack Youngerman
Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
Agnes MartinAgnes Martin
Eliot ElisofonEliot Elisofon

Movements

Early American ModernismEarly American Modernism
Hard-edge PaintingHard-edge Painting
PrecisionismPrecisionism
RealismRealism
Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana
Years Worked: 1953 - Present

Artists

Mel BochnerMel Bochner
Jenny HolzerJenny Holzer
Glenn LigonGlenn Ligon
Christopher WoolChristopher Wool
Fred WilsonFred Wilson

Friends

Jack YoungermanJack Youngerman
James RosenquistJames Rosenquist

Movements

Hard-edge PaintingHard-edge Painting
MinimalismMinimalism
Op ArtOp Art
Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised by Sarah Archino
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Useful Resources on Robert Indiana

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Robert Indiana: New Perspectives Recomended resource

By Thomas Crow and Robert Storr

Robert Indiana: The Artist and His Work 1955 - 2005

By John Wilmerding

art works

Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE Recomended resource

By Barbara Haskell and Rene Paul Barilleaux

Robert Indiana: The Monumental Woods

By Mitchell Anderson

More Interesting Books about Robert Indiana
RobertIndiana.com Recomended resource

Official Artist Website

Hopeday.org Recomended resource

International Day of Hope

ART REVIEW; Robert Indiana's Career: Love and American Style

By Grace Glueck
The New York Times
August 27, 1999

80 years of iconic art by famed Pop artist Robert Indiana on view at Allentown Art Museum

The Morning Call
October 4, 2014

Love, Robert Indiana Recomended resource

By Rachel Wolff
Departures
December 11, 2013

Robert Indiana on 50 Years of Art, and the Fraught Life of LOVE Recomended resource

By Andrew M. Goldstein
Artspace
September 24, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Robert Indiana
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