On this day, September 13 of 1928, the artist now known as Robert Indiana, was born in New Castle, Indiana. Earl Clark and Carmen Watters Clark adopted him as an infant and named him Robert Earl Clark. Earl served in a variety of professional roles, from oil executive to gas pumper. When Robert was nine, his parents divorced and he shifted with his mother. Owing to his mother frequently moving, Robert had already lived in twenty-one different places by the time he was seventeen. After graduating from high school, he served in the United States Air Force for three years before attending the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine, and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. In 1954, the artist relocated to New York City and began designing wood sculptures out of discarded objects, often stenciling painted words onto them. Indiana met the hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly in 1956, two years after relocating to New York. The two became partners and settled in Coenties Slip in the city.
In 1958, Robert changed his last name from Clark to Indiana in homage to his home state. In May 1961, Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, saw Indiana\’s work in a gallery exhibition and purchased Indiana\’s painting, ‘The American Dream, I’. Later that year, Indiana was part of a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and that was the turning point of his career. In the early 60s, Indiana focused on short, crisp words representative of the human condition. These were ‘eat’, ‘die’, ‘hug’, ‘love’, and later ‘hope’, which would ultimately define his work. In 1964 Indiana created a 20-foot ‘EAT’ sign for the New York World\’s Fair.
The image LOVE was first created in 1964 in the form of a card that he sent to several friends and acquaintances in the art world. Robert Indiana is perhaps best remembered for his ‘LOVE’ sculpture. This image can be traced back to 1964, when he painted the typographical ‘LOVE’ motif in cards, and sent these to his art world friends and colleagues. In 1965, he was commissioned by the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) commissioned to design their Christmas card with the word \”LOVE\”, which he did with an angled \”O\”. .In 1966, he expanded this motif through an aluminium sculpture of the same image., The success of this image marked a turning point in his career. The ‘LOVE’ sculpture became not only became Indiana’s most famous icon but also became a symbol of the pacifist movement in the U.S. in the sixties. In 1973, the image was put on an eight-cent US Postal Service postage stamp.
Indiana played a central role in developing assemblage art, hard-edge painting, and Pop art. As an artist, he continuously experimented with form and extended his art practice beyond painting and sculpture, such as collaborating with Andy Warhol on the film ‘Eat’ in 1964 and painting the Milwaukee Arena basketball court in 1977. The artist has also produced many works such as ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Cry for Peace, which are paintings on peace made after the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers. These works were exhibited in New York a few years later in 2004. The multifaceted artist also dabbled with theatre. In 1963, Indiana immersed himself in the world of choreography as a stage and costume designer, and since 1964, he also performed as a dancer and actor.
Robert Indiana was much respected among the artist community, and was conferred three honorary doctorates in his later years— In 1970, he was given the title of Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1970; another title of Honorary Doctor from the University of Indiana in 1977, and one from Colby College in 1981. Indiana’s art has been on display in prominent art museums and galleries in the US and abroad, such as The Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Royal Academy of Arts, London. On May 19 2018, at the ripe age of 89, the artist died of respiratory failure, in his home in Vinalhaven, Maine.