Robert Indiana (b. 1928)
Robert Indiana has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly coloured 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.
Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, he adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonym early in his career. During his typically Midwestern boyhood, highway signs had a symbolic importance for him. His father worked for Phillips 66 and, when he left his wife and son, he did so down route #66. The diner which his mother subsequently worked at had the familiar “EAT” sign looming overhead.
Indiana studied first at the Herron School of Art, Indianapolis, and then at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts 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.
Indiana finally settled on the New York waterfront in the historic Coentes slip area. From the outset he produced works that used bold, contrasting colours that mirror familiar signs along the highways.
The American dream has been a recurring theme in Indiana’s work and he has used it to both celebrate and criticise the national way of life. 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 colours, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective. One indication of his success was the appearance of the now iconic multi-coloured “Love” on a United States postage stamp in 1973.