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Robert
Indiana

Discover art for sale. Buy and sell prints & editions online by Robert Indiana. The Pop artist's LOVE project has been replicated many times in various forms over the last 50 years, a testament to his enduring legacy.

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Biography

Inspired by Pop Art, advertisement and the visuals of American life in the 1960s, Robert Indiana is an artist best known for his LOVE sculptures. He is known for his exploration of American culture through the use of language and commercially inspired designs, as well as being a key figure in the development of assemblage art and sculpture.

Beginnings

Born in New Castle, Indiana in 1928 as Robert Clark, Indiana spent the large majority of his childhood moving around his namesake state. After serving three years in the United States Air Force, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago until 1953, followed by the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and then Edinburgh College of Art from 1953-54. He then returned to the United States in 1954 to settle in New York.

The Pop artist changed his name to Indiana in 1958, acknowledging his roots in the American Midwest. This was reflected in his work’s shift away from the figurative painting, typical of his art school years, to the more commercial imagery that his paintings adopted in the 1960s.

First Works

In 1960 Indiana created Hole, part of a series of freestanding sculptures which Indiana made upon moving to the Coenties slip in Manhattan. Composed of a rectangular wooden column, a large wooden base and iron wheels protruding from both sides, two arrows in red and yellow near the top of the sculpture direct our eyes to a small indented hole. Indeed, the word ‘HOLE’ appears in black letters just below. This marked the beginning of Indiana’s use of the written word to play with perceptions of humour, consumerist culture and literature, a theme he returned to consistently in his career.

Success

Indiana’s major artistic success was in the early 1960s, following the purchase of American Dream 1 (1960-61) by Alfred Barr Jr for the New York MoMA. This painting depicts four circles, stacked two on top of two, each of which containing a star and a combination of text and numbers. The vivid colours and repeated geometric imagery did much to establish Indiana’s signature commercial ‘Pop’ style and indeed this four-circle template has been returned to by the artist many times throughout his career, creating multiple variations of American Dream.

He was also featured in a number of influential New York shows during this period which solidified his reputation as a key emerging creative artist. Shows including New Media-New Forms at the Martha Jackson gallery in 1961 and the International Exhibition Of The New Realists at Sidney Janis gallery in 1962.

Most Famous Works

Indiana’s most famous creation is his LOVE project, with few Pop images being more widely recognised. This distinct iconography, with the letters ‘L’ and a slightly tilted ‘O’ stacked on top of the ‘V’ and ‘E’ originally appeared in a series of poems written in 1958.

This image has since reappeared across his oeuvre, in works such as 4-STAR LOVE (1961) and in the MOMA commissioned Christmas card of 1965, which first contributed to its wide distribution. It was also made into a large-scale polychrome aluminium sculpture, which reiterated Indiana’s interest in the use of the written word as a viable artistic element. Speaking on this phenomenon, Indiana stated '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 image of love itself.'

In this spirit, the LOVE template has also been reappropriated multiple times across the last fifty years, notably in the 1980s with General Idea’s AIDS awareness subway poster campaign, and by Indiana himself in 2008 with HOPE - a work whose reproduction proceeds were donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

Influences

The American experience has been a consistent source of inspiration for Indiana’s work, expressed typically through pop imagery, language and everyday objects. He took elements of the familiar and ordinary, often using found objects from his surroundings in his work. He stated himself 'There are more signs than trees in America…so I think of myself as a painter of American landscape.' Indiana’s work often also references American literature, with works such as the Melville Triptych (1961) and The Calumet (1961) directly lifting text from their inspiration.

Following his departure from New York in his later life, Indiana chose to draw inspiration from more local experiences. In particular, works such as Ash, (1985) look at found objects from his new surroundings in Maine. Indiana also drew inspiration from paintings of Marsden Hartley from the 1930s, which led to his own 18-part series of paintings known as the Hartley Elegies (1989-94).

Style & Techniques

It is difficult to categorise Indiana’s oeuvre into one specific style as he drew influences from such a wide range of sources throughout his life. While considered a leader of the Pop Movement, his work visually distinguishes itself through Indiana’s overt engagement with social and political issues as well as through incorporation of literary and historical references important to the artist.

Nevertheless, Ellsworth Kelly’s teaching is clear in Indiana’s use of hard edge painting, as Kelly insisted early on that Indiana abandon the figurative style of painting he had pursued while studying in Chicago. From this point on Indiana consistently employed bright, recognisable forms, often lifted from oil company or commercial logos, relating to - yet neither criticising nor celebrating - American corporate power.

Life & Times

Indiana met his lover and artist Ellsworth Kelly in 1956 and became close with him and fellow artists living in the Coenties slip area, such as Agnes Martin, Jack Youngerman, Cy Twombly and James Rosenquist. He continued to live in this area of Manhattan until he moved to Maine’s remote Vinalhaven island in 1978. A fiercely private man, Indiana nevertheless continued to create and remain involved in political and socially charged art projects until his death in 2018.

On The Market

LOVE in its various formats remains Indiana’s most ubiquitous and commercially successful work, with his LOVE painting (1967) selling for just over £1.3 million at Christie’s New York Post War to Present auction in 2020. His large-scale adaptations of LOVE have also been hugely successful at auction, with The Great American Love (LOVE wall) (1972) selling for over $3.5million in 2017.

The Great American LOVE (Love wall) by Robert Indiana

Image © Sotheby's / The Great American LOVE © Robert Indiana 1972

1. £2.7M for Robert Indiana's The Great American Love (Love Wall)

The Great American LOVE (Love Wall) was sold at the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York, on November 14th, 2018. It had been previously acquired by the seller from a Christie’s auction in 2005. This four-panel oil painting from 1972 is instantly recognisable for Robert Indiana’s use of bold typographic design, monochrome colour palette and signature Love motif. The word first appeared in the artist’s oeuvre in 1966, and quickly gained him national appeal given its resonance with countercultural movements at the time.

In this characteristic painting, Indiana explores the relationship between colour and the written word in a geometrical composition of white serif letters against a bright blue and lively red background, referencing the colours in the American flag. The artist creates an intriguing visual interplay between positive and negative spaces in the image through the use of primary colour blocks. The Great American LOVE (Love Wall) also draws on Pop Art in its precise and mechanical execution, graphic style and sign-like effect, recalling both Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. Indiana erects a timeless monument to the universal concept of love.

Love 1967 by Robert Indiana

image © Sotheby's / LOVE © Robert Indiana 1967

2. £2.7M for Robert Indiana's Love

Robert Indiana’s Love from 1967 sold at Sotheby’s New York, Contemporary Art Evening Auction on November 14th, 2018. The large-scale, bright blue canvas with four, hard-edged red letters spelling the word “love” is an iconic example of Indiana’s oeuvre, which played a pivotal role in the development of assemblage art and hard-edge painting.

Demonstrating a Pop Art sensibility in its advertising board-like quality and razor-sharp execution, Love simultaneously captures Indiana’s enduring interest in elevating a single, common word into the realm of the mythical, influenced by the artist’s contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Ed Ruscha. The Love motif first appeared in his works in 1966, and was widely distributed through the United States Postal Service "LOVE" stamp in 1973, gaining instant popularity due to the ongoing hippie movement. Spanning over a range of underpinnings from the erotic, religious, political and autobiographical, Love’s power lies in its simple complexity.

Love Red/Blue by Robert Indiana

Image © Christie 's / LOVE Red/Blue © Robert Indiana 1967

3. £2.5M for Robert Indiana's Love Red/Blue

Robert Indiana’s Love Red/Blue was sold at Christie’s New York on May 12th, 2011, in their. Post-War and Contemporary Art Featuring Property from an Important Private European Collection Afternoon Session. This monumental sculpture is instantly recognisable as a part of Indiana’s Love series, depicting the four letters in the word “love” in flat, stencil-style typography, coated with bold primary colours.

A pioneer of Pop Art and hard-edge painting, Indiana explores the relationship between text, meaning and colour through this pivotal series. In Love Red/Blue, the letters are coated in shiny red and blue, created in the same scale and dual colour as the famous Love sculpture in New York's 6th Avenue and 55th Street. The word” love” is connected to the artist’s childhood memories at a Christian Science church, where he saw the inscription "God is Love" on the wall. The motif later came to embody the spirit of the 1960s hippie movements alongside other political, religious, erotic and autobiographical connotations.

One Through Zero (The Ten Numbers) by Robert Indiana

image © Sotheby's / One Through Zero (The Ten Numbers) © Robert Indiana 19786