Robert Indiana born September 13, 1928 is an American art associated with the American Pop Art movement. Indiana uses distinctive imagery drawing on commercial art approaches blended with existentialism that gradually moved towards what Indiana calls ‘structural poems’. Indiana's work often consists of bold, simple, iconic images, especially numbers and short words like "EAT", "HUG", and "LOVE". Arguably, his most important work is the famous ‘LOVE’ sculpture outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Robert Indiana’s eye-catching sign paintings are among the most radical expressions of Pop Art. They take up the aesthetics of advertising and consumerism, building bold icons from numbers, letters and forms. The astounding simplicity of their appearance has led to Robert Indiana's paintings themselves becoming a kind of logo leading the revolutionary principles of American Pop Art into an apotheosis.The perhaps most well-known painting of all times is "LOVE", a square composition in which the letters, L and O, are placed on the letters, V and E, and which was made in the colours red, blue and green in 1966. This forceful painting has conquered the world; it exists as a sculpture, silk-screen print, poster, tapestries and also as an 8 cent stamp that has been sent more than 300 million times within and from America.
Like all the other works by Indiana, despite the universal message it proclaims, "LOVE" must be understood as essentially American and simultaneously as autobiographic. Many aspects from art, consumerism, politics and religion form the basis for this painting in which the letters and the background make a visual-verbal, and again, almost abstract structure, with references to Colour Field painting, Minimalism, Hard Edge painting by, for instance, Indiana's friend, Ellsworth Kelly, American advertising graphic design from the 1960s, the Vietnam War which had just begun, religion, eroticism and sex. To all these complex formal and substantive facets of the painting, Robert Indiana has personal relations. As a young artist, he was part of the art scene that was emancipating itself from sublime painting at the end of the 1950s. He wrote poetry himself, was interested in American literature, in the roots of Christianity and Judaism, as well as in his existence in a society that propagated the American dream, a concept of nationality oriented toward economic affluence that leads to an intellectually repressive mainstream. The Utopian possibilities inherent in the idea of the American dream and its excluding and normative patriotic reality are being weighed up and balanced by Indiana in his work to the present day.
ART REVIEW; Robert Indiana's Career: Love and American Style
By Grace Glueck
The New York Times, Friday, August 27, 1999
You can't think of Robert Indiana without LOVE, the four-letter directive he made so famous as a logo that the United States Government put it on a stamp. Once a star of the Pop movement, known for clever, hard-edged compositions of highly charged words, phrases and numbers, Mr. Indiana's glow dimmed during the late 1960's while that of Andy Warhol and other Pop practitioners brightened.
It has been suggested that the dimming had to do with the mass popularity of his LOVE image, and its consequent rejection by his peers. (Actually, because LOVE was not copyrighted, he has failed to profit from the thousands of reproductions and knockoffs made from it.) In any case, in 1978, when the building he inhabited on Coenties Slip in Manhattan was sold, the artist -- born in New Castle, Ind., in 1928 and originally named Robert Clark -- removed himself to Vinalhaven, an island 15 miles off the coast of Maine. He has lived and worked there ever since.
In fact, this ''American painter of signs'' as he designates himself, has slipped so far out of the art-world orbit that the big retrospective now on view at the Portland Museum of Art, ''Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana'' is his first major exhibition in this country for two decades. Covering 40 years of work, from 1958 to 1998, the show includes -- besides a representative group of his paintings -- the daily journals he kept during his early days in New York, an overly generous selection of his totemic sculptures made of discarded wooden beams and metal scraps, and a group of prints.
Of course, LOVE prevails. Mr. Indiana has put the logo through many paces -- some might say he's milked it dry -- and there are no less than 14 versions of it in the show. The biggest is ''The Love Cross'' (1968), a five-panel, 15-by-15-foot cross not T-shaped but with four symmetrical arms. Each of its sections bears the L word in its original design: two pairs of Roman capital letters with serifs, the first pair placed above the second. The letter ''O'' is tilted to the right, as if the foot of the L has given it a kick. In this particular work, the panels read successively right side up, upside down, and right to left, the letters in red on a blue ground. So active are the saturated colors that the whole has more of the impact of Op than Pop.
What this and certain other objects demonstrate, once again, is Mr. Indiana's considerable style as a graphic designer whose flat, posterish manipulation of words, symbols, colors and spaces -- positive and negative -- can be pleasing and provocative but also annoying with its stilted repetitiveness. At their best his designs reverberate, their elements bouncing off one other in dynamic relationships as they comment on the ups and downs of American life, his own included.
''The Beware -- Danger American Dream No. Four'' (1963), one of his ''American Dream'' series, takes cues from the ubiquitous American pinball machine. In gumdrop reds and yellows on a black ground, the number 4 and the words ''eat,'' ''tilt,'' ''jilt,'' ''jack,'' ''juke'' and ''the American dream'' are set in four circles, symmetrically deployed on a diamond-shaped panel.
It's a sardonic comment on the fantasy of riches, happiness, spiritual sustenance, and so on that besets us all, versus the chanciness of its realization, that has preoccupied Mr. Indiana for most of his career. At times he comes across as a corny revivalist preacher, as in ''Yield Brother II'' (1963), a giant road sign that shrieks its message in hot green, orange and blue; at others as a righteous political partisan, as in ''Alabama'' (1965), a comment on the civil-rights conflict, and then again as an observer of his own struggles.
The shorthand words and symbols that characterize his more public sentiments are also applied to his life: stars are used for self-reference; the words ''eat'' and ''die,'' usually seen in conjunction, refer to his mother's deathbed and her last words asking if he'd had something to eat. The rubric ''God is Love,'' we are told in the catalogue introduction by Aprile Gallant, curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the museum and the show's organizer, derives from its posting at the Christian Science church services he attended as a boy.
One of the few figurative renditions in the show, a pair of paintings titled ''Mother and Father,'' are painted ''snapshots'' of each parent standing separately next to a Model- T Ford, their own emblem of the American Dream. (His mother's state of undress, his father's bare legs and feet under his overcoat apparently refer to the artist's fantasy of having been conceived in such a car.)
A powerful influence in shaping Mr. Indiana's work was that of Ellsworth Kelly, an early friend and mentor in New York, whose hard-edged style and sensuous use of pure, unaccented color made lasting impressions. In the show Mr. Indiana pays more conscious tribute to the influence of artists from the past: Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley.
One of his biggest works imposes his own vocabulary on Demuth's well-known ''I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold'' (1928), an elegant combination of figures and abstract motifs that in turn is a tribute to the poet William Carlos Williams. In the Indiana version, ''The Demuth American Dream No. 5'' (1963), five black panels form a 12-by-12-foot cross. Each panel bears a circle fronted by a five-pointed star and a reproduction of the triple ''5'' in Demuth's work. A circular band within each of four circles repeats an Indiana catchword, ''err,'' ''die,'' ''eat'' and ''hug.''
Between 1989 and 1994, Mr. Indiana painted a series of 18 canvases inspired by the shapes and numbers in the ''war motifs'' paintings that Hartley -- who once worked in Vinalhaven -- did in Berlin between 1913-15. They commemorate a slain German officer the artist had befriended. One of the Indiana takeoffs, ''KvF XI,'' is shown here and it is an impressive exercise in translating a powerful and important piece of work from depths to shallows.
But for all the superficialities and repetitions of his work, it is of historical interest to see a full account of it. For better or for worse, it has influenced a younger generation of ''word'' artists like Jenny Holzer, Christopher Wool and Barbara Kruger, and at its best it has a jumpy vitality that registers the beat of American life. But once in 20 years is enough.