Born Robert Clark in New Castle Indiana, in 1928, Robert Indiana adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. “There have been many American SIGN painters, but there never were any American sign PAINTERS.” This exercise in emphasis sums up Robert Indiana’s position in the world of contemporary art. He has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly colored geometric Pop Art.
In his work he has been an ironic commentator on the American scene. Both his graphics and his paintings have made cultural statements on life and, during the rebellious 1960s, pointed political statements as well.
Indiana studied first at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and then at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York. From there he went to the School of Art Institute of Chicago where he received a degree in 1953 and won a travelling fellowship to Europe. In 1954, he attended Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.
In his paintings and constructions he has given new meaning to such basic words as “EAT”, “DIE” and “LOVE”. Using them in bold block letters in vivid colors, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective. One indication of his success was the appearance of his immensely popular multi-colored “LOVE” on a United States postage stamp in 1973.
HIs LOVE series, which opened at the Stable Gallery in New York in 1966, became one of the defining images of the Pop Art era of the 1960s, but for him, the meaning was deeper than just a comment on the commercial aspects of modern life.
He had a difficult childhood because he was adopted by parents whose life was unstable, and his adopted mother, Carmen, died when he was age 20. His preoccupation with LOVE became an exploration of complicated relationships and his spiritual nature. Carmen was of German heritage, and in his LOVE depictions, he used the colors of West Germany, which were yellow letters on a red and black ground.
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
New Orleans Auction Galleries, Catalogue of November 22, 2003
Biography from the Archives of AskART.