In 1959 Indiana began to assemble wood constructions that he calls "herms" after the classical Greek pillars which once represented Hermes, the messenger god of Greek mythology. At the time, Indiana lived on Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan, where along with his neighbors Robert Rauschenberg and Mark di Suvero, he was inspired by wharf timber that was the detritus of urban renewal. He also found old die-cut stencils in abandoned buildings nearby. Indiana viewed the act of discovery and these "found" objects as signifiers of himself as an artist. Robert Indiana is a storyteller whose works embody autobiographical origins and influences. The artist's telling stories is closely related to the creation of artwork, although the "truth" is not necessarily primary --the story itself is truth.
Indiana's works explore themes of the archetypal hero, the traveler and the myth of the American dream as well as the reversal of the dream, the journey that fails, the hero who stumbles. There is a palatable sense of self-identity within his works, and of the destiny of the artist-hero. The herms offered Indiana a means through which to develop a figurative language and to communicate verbal-visual relationships. For this reason, Indiana identifies the herms as among his most important works, and calls Six one of his most significant pieces from the series. Within the artist's repertoire of images, the number six has a particularly strong resonance. The number correlates to his father, who was born in June (the sixth month), who worked for Phillips 66, and who deserted the family by driving away on Route 66. Although the wheels on the present work imply the possibility of mobility, the herm remains a static totem, painted in the cautionary yellow and black colors of a yield road sign.
Six was created during an important moment of the artist's career. In 1961, Indiana began to exhibit his work through the David Anderson Gallery in addition to his work being included in the seminal exhibition Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art. By 1962, Eleanor Ward of the Stable Gallery had identified Indiana as a new young talent. Six is a rare work from the genesis of Indiana's mature oeuvre, and the first herm to appear at auction.