Robert Indiana
Biography of American Pop Artist Noted for Word Paintings, Sculptures.

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Indiana created some of the greatest 20th century paintings of the Pop genre.

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Robert Indiana (b.1928)


Early Life and Works
Word Paintings
LOVE Image



An important contributor to American art of the 1960s, Robert Indiana was an active member of the Pop Art movement, along with Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97), Andy Warhol (1928-87), Ray Johnson (1927-95), Alex Katz (b.1927), Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), Ed Ruscha (b.1937), James Rosenquist (b.1933), Tom Wesselmann (b.1931) and Jim Dine (b.1935). Accomplished in graphic art and sculpture as well as painting, Robert Indiana is best known for his pop word art with its vocabulary of highway signs and advertisement-style images, reflecting life in 1960s America. In 1966 he created his signature image "LOVE", since replicated in many different media and colours, which became an icon of Pop art and induced a number of art critics to characterize his work as both transitory and affirmatively optimistic. While it is true that his style of modern art is closer to Romanticism than most Pop art, in reality he is preoccupied with the inherent ambiguities of the 'American Dream' and addresses fundamental issues, such as life, death and success, as well as the unhappy situation of the individual in society. His brightly coloured painting - with its flat, razor-edged imagery, influenced by contemporary techniques of Post Painterly Abstraction and the decor of pinball machines - typically uses single words, or commands, billboard-style - to highlight different aspects of American culture, including the illusion and disillusion of love. Highly influential in his heyday, and ranked among America's most innovative modern artists, whose works were emblematic of the 60s Hippie culture, Indiana faded in the late 70s due to the rise of postmodernism as well as the Reagan Revolution.

Early Life and Works

Born Robert Clark, in New Castle, Indiana, he learned the basics of drawing and sketching in Indianapolis before doing his military service. He then studied fine art at the Art Institute of Chicago (1949–53) under the GI Bill, before attending Edinburgh College of Art (1953–4), after which he settled in New York. Here, he began making wood sculpture using found objects, often stencilling painted words onto them: see, for instance, Moon (1960, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1958 he changed his last name to Indiana, publicly acknowledging his roots in the American Midwest.

Word Paintings

Calling himself "the American painter of signs", he began to focus his attention on the reality/unreality of American society in pictures like: The American Dream I (1961, MOMA, New York). In this work, his imagery is based on the design of a pinball machine, and the words "tilt" and "take all" refer to the inequalities of the 60s. His mature painting - not unlike that of Jasper Johns (b.1930) - is characterized by text and numbers stenciled onto flat but sharply edged areas of vibrant colour, influenced by the hard-edge painting movement which was being explored by contemporaries like Ad Reinhardt (1913-67), Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923), Al Held (b.1928), Frank Stella (b.1936), Alexander Liberman, Kenneth Noland (b.1924), Jack Youngerman (b.1926), and others. For a leading contemporary exponent of word painting, please see: Christopher Wool (b.1955).

Indiana's focus on American themes, use of simple but visually bold compositions and shaped canvases made him one of the central figures of American Pop art. See, for instance: Figure 5 (1963, National Museum of American Art, Washington DC), which features the stencilled words "USA, ERR, DIE, HUG" on all sides of a pentagon. In 1964, he decorated the exterior of the New York State pavilion at the New York World's Fair with a 20-foot tall sign reading EAT. (Note: for a comparison, see: Andy Warhol's Pop Art.) In 1968 he was given a major retrospective by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

LOVE Image

Indiana's concern for the spiritual concept embodied in the word LOVE is reflected in paintings such as Love (1966; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana) and sculptures such as Love (1968, JFK Plaza, Philadelphia), and Ahava (Hebrew for "love") (1977, Israel Museum, Jerusalem). On Valentine's Day, 1973, the U.S. Postal Service issued Indiana's LOVE design as a commemorative stamp.

In 1978 Robert Indiana left New York and settled on the remote island of Vinalhaven off the coast of Maine.

Paintings and sculptures by Robert Indiana can be seen in some of the best art museums in America.


• For biographies of other modern artists of the 1960s, see: 20th-Century Painters.
• For more details of Pop Art, see: Homepage.

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