By Caitlyn Walter, Interpretive Planning Assistant
If you stop in to the Brown Study Room at DOMA this summer, you’ll notice an image that is likely to be familiar: “LOVE,” in large red letters against a green and blue background, the “O” slightly tilted. In the decades since its conception, this composition has become one of the most widely recognized works of art in the world. It has taken on a life of its own in the form of bumper stickers, magnets, t-shirts, book covers, sculptures, and prints like ours. The artist grew up not far from here, and his influence is more than just the famous image of “LOVE.”
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark on September 13, 1928 in New Castle, Indiana. He adopted his pseudonym in 1958 to celebrate his Midwestern origins, a choice consistent with his interest in Americana. His early work introduced sign-like geometric shapes and monosyllabic words that read like shorthand for a biography – “EAT,” “HUG,” “ERR,” and “DIE.”
In 1954, Robert moved to New York City where he met Hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly, who became his artistic mentor and intimate friend. Kelly found a studio loft for him in Lower Manhattan and introduced Indiana to other artists, including Agnes Martin, Jack Youngerman, James Rosenquist, Charles Hinman and Lenore Tawney. Indiana’s friendships with Hard-edge and Pop artists of the New York scene influenced his style and furthered his career. In addition to paintings and large-scale sculptures, Indiana worked on stage sets for opera and theatre and an avant-garde film Eat with Andy Warhol.
Between 1964 and 1966, Indiana developed his iconic, imaged word: LOVE. He did not properly copyright his famous image, and it was quickly appropriated for countless unauthorized uses. Disillusioned with the art world and feeling his reputation had been tarnished by plagiarism, Indiana relocated to a remote island off the coast of Maine in 1978. He continued to produce art and enjoy considerable fame in the following decades, culminating in a retrospective, “Robert Indiana: Beyond LOVE”, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2013. Indiana died at his Vinalhaven Island home, the Star of Hope, on May 19, 2018, at the age of 89.