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“Pop art is the American Dream, optimistic, generous, and naïve!” – Robert Indiana
Robert Indiana’s pop-inspired focus on Americana made him one of the central figures of American Pop Art in the 1960s, although he always rejected the label, instead himself an “American painter of signs”.
An admirer of early 20th-century American Modernism, Robert Indiana was influenced by artists such as Edward Hopper and Charles Demuth. Like them, he built upon the use of the familiar to transform everyday scenes and objects into fine art. In his work, Indiana explored American identity and the power of abstraction and language. The simplicity of the images and his commercial style belies the complexity of his work, which is layered with references from art history, literature and his own deeply personal experience, and contains coded messages in everyday language to deliver a subtle yet powerful critique on mass culture and consumerism.
Born in 1928, Indiana was adopted as an infant and had a troubled childhood, moving frequently throughout his home state of Indiana. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland before settling in the late 1950s into a community of artists living in Coenties Slip, once a major port on the southernmost tip of Manhattan. With fellow artists such as Ellesworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist and Jack Youngrman, Indiana would scavenge the abandoned warehouses and environs for materials and objets trouvés to create assemblages such as ‘School of the Slip’ (1957) and ‘Hub’ (1957). In 1961 The Museum of Modern Art included his work in its exhibition ‘Art of Assemblage’, which launched his career as an established artist.
Indiana is probably best remembered for his colourful portrayals of the word ‘LOVE’, and few Pop images are more widely recognised. The graphics were selected for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 Christmas card. Emblematic of the counter culture of the day, fuelled by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, it was soon adopted by the Hippie Free Love movement. “Some people like to paint trees. I like to paint love”, he said. The graphics have since been reproduced in a variety of formats from large public sculptures to postage stamps and has been parodied on LP and book covers and remains iconic to this day. In 1970 he created a ‘LOVE’ sculpture in corten steel, the original of which is displayed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art although it has since been reproduced in a variety of formats for rendering in displays around the World, including sculptures translated into Hebrew (AHAVA) and Spanish (AMOR).
Robert Indiana’s work has featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions around the world, and is held in the permanent collections of important museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Art; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, DC; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Museum Ludwig, Vienna; Shanghai Art Museum and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Robert Indiana died in Maine in 2018.