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Artists Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana Photo

Robert Indiana

American Painter and Sculptor

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

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

Died: May 19, 2018 - Vinalhaven Island, Maine

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-20th-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.

Biography

Robert Indiana Photo

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.

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Robert Indiana Biography Continues

Important Art by Robert Indiana

The below artworks are the most important by Robert Indiana - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Hole (1960)
Artwork Images

Hole (1960)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Gesso, oil, wood, and iron wheels on wood - Private Collection

The American Dream I (1961)
Artwork Images

The American Dream I (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: The American Dream I (1961) features four circles depicted in two rows of two. Each circle contains stars, along with text, numbers, or a combination of the two, all common elements in Indiana's paintings. Also characteristic is his use of stencils to create text and numbers in bold, vivid colors. Like Jasper Johns's target paintings, Indiana uses repeated simple and familiar geometric shapes to build a striking composition that reads as quickly and easily as a billboard, yet contains layers of symbolism and meaning.

The first in a series of "American Dream" paintings, Indiana uses words that simultaneously reference both American life and his own biography. The recurring circle and star shapes are drawn from street and advertising signs, which Indiana used to make visual references to his childhood experiences of life on the road and also a larger commentary on the transitory nature of a life spent in search of the elusive "American dream." Indiana's references are both deeply personal and universal, merging his life experiences with common stereotypes of American culture to create a network of meanings. The numbers in the top left circle refer to United States Routes he had personally traveled, including the infamous Route 66. Yet this is no simple celebration of the American road, but a darker exploration of ambition and potential failure. The word "TILT" in the bottom left circle suggests the pinball machines commonly found in bars and diners which he considered to be alternate homes for many Americans, but were also places where he spent much of his childhood (especially after his mother worked in a diner to support her family). Yet "TILT" has an air of injustice, the signal lighting up when the game suspects the player of taking an unfair advantage; whether the game is right or wrong, the player's turn is disqualified. "TAKE ALL," featured in the top right circle, could refer to the typically American notion of trying to have everything, but also suggests a one-sidedness; only one person can take all, leaving others depleted. The simplicity can sound like a boast or ring out like a childish refrain. The "American Dream" is a complicated and often tragic ideal.

While this series was begun early in Indiana's career, he returned to it and created the most recent, the ninth, in 2001. The American Dream I, however, is perhaps the most significant of the series as it helped to launch the artist's career: when Alfred Barr, then director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, saw the work on display at the David Anderson Gallery in 1961, he immediately purchased it for the museum's collection.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Green Diamond Eat/The Red Diamond Die (1962)
Artwork Images

The Green Diamond Eat/The Red Diamond Die (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: As reflected in the title, The Green Diamond Eat/The Red Diamond Die is a 1962 work consisting of two painted diamond-shaped panels intended to be hung side-by-side. In the first, a red circle containing the word "EAT" in green lettering is placed on a green background. The second panel depicts a black circle with the word "DIE" in yellow letters placed on a red background.

Words factor heavily in Indiana's work; beginning early in his career, he used individual three and four letter words to make powerful statements. His imperatives here are direct commands to the viewer, although they instruct us to execute natural and necessary actions. The choices of circle and diamond shapes were partially a matter of practicality, since a circle fits nicely within a square or diamond. The circle also provides a visually pleasing shape on which to place text, either simple words of a few letters as seen here, or longer words positioned around the curve of the circle as found in other works. The simplicity of these forms borrows from principles of graphic design to create easily-deciphered icons that the viewer can understand at a glance.

This simplicity, however, is complicated in a fuller reading of the work; as is often the case, the painting's components are derived from autobiographical elements of Indiana's life. The red and green on the first canvas refer to his father, who worked for the Phillips 66 gas company and whose sign used those two colors for many years. When his father left the family, his mother worked in Diners, suggested by the word "EAT." Furthermore, "DIE" is linked to "EAT" for Indiana, since the last thing his mother told him before her death was to be sure to eat. The two panels create a representation of his parents, labeled with words that were linked to their absence from his life. He takes the language and visual iconography of mass media and marketing and transforms it into something meaningful and mournful, creating a connection between his individual experience and the anonymous everyman.

Oil on canvas, two panels - Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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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.
View Influences Chart

Artists

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

Personal Contacts

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

Influences on Artist
Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana
Years Worked: 1953 - Present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

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

Personal Contacts

Jack YoungermanJack Youngerman
James RosenquistJames Rosenquist

Movements

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

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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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Sarah Archino
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