In memoriam: Robert Indiana (1928-2018)
Robert Indiana, early progenetor of pop art, has died aged 89 in his secluded Maine home. His most famous work, LOVE (1965) is a paradoxical one. At once, it spotlighted his career and eclipsed it, erstwhile lending the artist the now largely rethought critical response as a ‘one trick pony’. This signature composition, first created for a MoMA Christmas card, was subsequently printed on 330 million postage stamps, and has since been reproduced innumerable times in paint, print, as a sculpture; as well as being recreated on unauthorised tchotchkes; casting a love-shaped shadow over the artist’s otherwise abundant oeuvre.
Indiana once said, ‘It’s the role of the artist – my particular role, if you will – to make words and numbers very, very special.’ It’s an idea that preoccupied him for most of his career. Early standout works, like the 1961 oil painting The American Dream #1, used bold graphic design and peppy typography to tousle with the perceived superficiality of mid-century American life; a concept Indiana (real name Clark) toyed with by renaming himself after the Midwestern state he was born in.
Indiana remains one of the most important pop artists of all time, his name sitting comfortably alongside Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. His work with language anticipated a deluge of artists who use words as a pillar in their art – Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha, to Tracey Emin and Bruce Nauman. But his most powerful legacy will remain his eternally powerful stamp of LOVE, a rare work on the level of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, that reaches outside of the confines of the art world and into the fabric of society. §