This work will be included in the forthcoming Robert Indiana catalogue raisonne being prepared by Simon Salama-Caro.
Monumental in scale, ubiquitous in recognition value, and emblematic for American Pop Art culture, Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE sculptures are a global phenomena. LOVE (Red/Blue), conceived in 1966 and executed in 1990, with its vivid, hard-edged stencil-style contours and dazzling unmodulated patina, shares its scale and dual color with that on New York's 6th Avenue and 55th Street. Conceived as a serial process, versions of which exist in a variety of materials and sizes, none can match the visual impact and pulsating high-keyed chromatism of the present version.
Both a formal abstract configuration and a shaped poem, its dual nature as both imperative utterance and artwork, what Indiana himself described as a 'verbal-visual" act, fires an extraordinary sonic and optical intensity. The letters themselves, nestled, rubbing together, insinuate a physicality and tactility that resonate with the intended affect. As a visual image, it is emblematic of a time and place in American socio-political history even as it derives from a torrent of art-historical influences. Finding one's artistic style in 1950s New York would be a struggle for any artist and Indiana acknowledges as much when of his hard-edged reductive geometry for LOVE.
"In a sense, I got down to the subject matter of my work ... the subject is defined by its expression in the word itself ... LOVE is purely a skeleton of all that word has meant in all the erotic and religious aspects of the theme, and to bring it down to the actual structure of calligraphy [is to reduce it] to the bare bone."
(Robert Indiana, quoted in T. Brakeley (ed.), Robert Indiana, New York 1990, p. 168).
Indiana's LOVE paintings and sculptures had humble beginnings. Having seen the word "love" in multiple guises, written in Christian Science books, imprinted on the spare walls of his church, the artist spent decades thinking through its possible meanings. Artistically first conceived in 1958 as a shaped poem after Apollinaire and other early modernists, including Gertrude Stein, Indiana stacked VE over LO, the O canted slyly to one side. Eight years on, Indiana transposed this configuration to a block of aluminium, carved out for the Stable Gallery (1966). A request from the Museum of Modern Art to use the artwork for Christmas cards followed shortly. Originally made up in a range of colors from black and white to up to five colors, the museum chose the three-color version, red, green, and blue. The trajectory toward global appropriation of this image and its incorporation into the cultural lexicon has been, however, too much isolated from its art-historical credentials.
When Robert Clark moved from New Castle, Indiana to Coenties Slip in 1954, he also ratcheted up his American identity, taking on the self-referential name of his home state and painting The American Dream #1, 1960-61, purchased almost immediately by The Museum of Modern Art. Chauvinistically affirming his American cultural self-identification, he insisted that what was important for him in this and his other works was 'Only that I am American. Only that I am of my generation, too young for regional realism, surrealism, magic realism and Abstract Expressionism and too old to return to the figure."" (J. Pissaro, Robert Indiana, New York, 2006, p. 14). After studies in Indianapolis, the Chicago Art Institute, Edinburgh College of Art and London University, in New York, Indiana immersed himself in creating assemblages, such as his "Herms" and stencilled paintings, using hard, flat surfaces inspired by his loft-mates Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Jack Youngerman. Despite the post-WWII materialistic culture and its industrial surround, the artist thought of himself not as a Pop icon artist, but rather as an artist engaged in all things American, its nationhood, its politics, it commodity culture, and its sign-related imagery. This last, signage, was the signifier with which Indiana identified-'an American painter of signs," as he called himself.
His commitment to language as sign and identity was drawn from New York art of the 1950s, in which words were appropriated in much assemblage works and their performative versions, environments and happening (one thinks of Alan Kaprows 'Words," 1962). Indiana's interaction with language, its letter/symbols abstractions and as meaning, began in the late 1950s when he discovered a set of die-cut stencils and appropriated them for early works, which he called 'Herms," stencilled pillars after the Greek herma, a plain elongated rectangular marble or other stone, topped by a head and adorned on the lower front with phalluses. The stencilling on Indiana's headless wooden beams prefigures his later reductions to letters or numbers alone.
Devoted to literature, Indiana, highly educated and precocious, was committed to the insistence of language, as much as he was to his own biography, limning his works with references to his past, in the creation of a parallel back story or the personification of his present state. As his style matured, the coincidence of form and content, of materials, shape, color, and signification, merged. Meaning overlaying meaning is clearest in LOVE''s sculptural form, for it derives most directly from Indiana's original poem, 'Wherefore the Punctuation of the Heart," which ends with the phrase, "To make LOVE Architected in eternal form." LOVE (Red/Blue), 1966-1990 reifies this 'architecture" in all its insistent, brazen relay between artist and viewer, yet carries with it the personal imprint of its author.