This work will be included in the Robert Indiana Catalogue raisonné being prepared by Simon Salama-Caro.
Executed in 1971 and a continuation of Robert Indiana's series of American Dreams, Decade Autoportraits are multi-faceted and complex. Summarizing the different themes that run throughout Indiana's mature oeuvre, this piece originates from three sequences of paintings conceived as a triple series. Part of a symbolic series of self-portraits, Decade Autoportrait 1971 belongs to the artist's gem-sized suite of twenty-four inch square paintings. Each work in this sequence contains a decagon in a circle in a square, within all of which are superimposed the letters IND (for Indiana), a five pointed star, and the numeral 1. In addition some panels, within or intersecting the hard-edged shapes, display other symbols such as smaller stars and often circular arrows pointing towards names of places or people. Devoted to Indiana's own life these paintings serve as geographic records. The palette of each Decade Autoportrait follows that of a prominent Indiana painting from the year cited. In each painting, figurative pronouncements (words, symbols, and numerals) representing the chosen year in the artist's life are updated with indicators of the year the Autoportrait was made, rendering interchangeable the early and the late.
Evocative of cubist portraits and poems, rendering the self through the interpenetration of form and experience through words and numbers, Indiana himself describes the series of paintings as portrait-like. Decade Autoportrait 1971 created in anticipation of his one man show at Galerie Denise Reni in New York, where it was exhibited in 1972, documents his move to the Bowery. In using the name BOUWERIE, a name coined by the Dutch, Indiana directly references the historical and cultural origins of New York. In addition to this word, the canvas prominently displays another cryptic word ERR. Another part of Indiana's personal vocabulary, ERR originates from the four key words of Indiana's American Dream series.
Formally strong, Indiana's paintings are flat, symmetrical, hard-edged compositions clearly articulated by the shapes of simple words. Referring to himself as a colorist, Indiana's working procedure is as meticulous as his surfaces. It generally begins with a long period of mental sketchings and incubation of an idea, directly followed by its realization as a full-scale drawing on the canvas that is the basis for multiple coats of solid color. Working painstakingly with the brush, Indiana rarely makes changes and never uses masking tape or other devices. In order to create the classic Roman lettering, Indiana applies stencils but only in the initial phase. Square shaped paintings are recurrent in the artist's work. This shape serves as a perfect background to display the circle, another important form in Indiana's oeuvre. A universal symbol, the circle carries multiple references in Indiana's life. From the circular structure of the automobile wheels, to the circular mandalas (wheels of words) seen in all of Indiana's works, the circle plays a fundamental role. According to Jungian theory the circle is a symbol of the self, and is a form that Indiana focuses on in depth throughout his artistic career.