Moment of Indiana History

Robert Indiana

Artist Robert Indiana is most often associated with the New York pop-art movement of the 50’s and 60’s but was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana.

A time capsule sealed in the early twentieth century might contain a number of items with Indiana origins—a car, a Coke bottle, a Raggedy Ann doll. American culture in the second half of the century, however, might be represented by a different icon that can also be traced back to the Hoosier State. Originally created as a Christmas card design for the Museum of Modern Art in 1964, the image entitled LOVE has been burned into the collective visual consciousness in the intervening years. Four red block letters L-O-V-E are arranged in a square against a blue and green ground; the “O” is tilted at a 45 degree angle. In 1973, the image enjoyed wide circulation as a postage stamp, and later, a number of large sculptural incarnations. Owing to a lack of copyright, LOVE has since been reproduced willy-nilly.

Though the ubiquitous logo is in public domain, it owes its existence to a single artist. Robert Indiana is most often associated with the New York Pop art movement of the 50’s and 60’s, but was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928. The artist moved around the periphery of Indianapolis during his Depression-era childhood. The family settled for a time in Mooresville where, at the age of six, Indiana attended the funeral of the town’s most notorious native son, John Dillinger. The artist remembered a boyhood spent riding in the family car looking at billboards and eating chicken dinners with country relatives. One memorable beacon of his youth was an illuminated sign hovering over downtown Indianapolis advertising Phillips 66, his father’s sometime employer. Though his most famous works borrow the bold colors and design of commercial art, earlier pieces partook of a more traditional idiom. A watercolor he painted at age 17, for example, is catalogued as “My Cousin’s General Store in Bean Blossom, Indiana”’; a plein-air study of an old grain elevator in Mooresville was his first sale.

While working after school as a Western Union bicycle messenger and a copy boy for the Indianapolis Star, Indiana concentrated on art classes in high school at Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis. Upon graduation, he received a Latin award, a composition prize named for Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, and a scholarship to the Herron School of Art, which he turned down. Enlisting instead—in order to get out of Indiana, he later recalled—he spent three years in the Air Force, then attended the Art Institute of Chicago on the GI Bill.

The artist came to New York in 1954, at which point he changed his surname to “Indiana,” to distinguish himself from a peer named Clark. “I chose it because it was my birthplace,” the artist recalled. “It’s home and it’s the place of most all of my most pleasant memories.” Indiana disavowed an overly sentimental attachment to the state or its folk, however. By the early 60’s, the artist claimed to “have divorced myself from Hoosiers pretty completely. People from Indiana, generally speaking, are like my own family,” he stated, “most of them are rather simple people with uncomplicated lives and I outgrew that a long, long time ago.” Nonetheless, in 1978 Robert Indiana quit New York for the remote fishing town of Vinalhaven, Maine, where he remains.

Incidentally, Robert Indiana is not the only artist to have adopted the name of the Hoosier state as a surname. Writer, artist and critic Gary Indiana, who frequently visits the topics of criminality and the depravity of contemporary culture, was born Gary Hoisington in New Hampshire in 1950.

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