”I was out to some but not to others. I certainly didn’t flaunt that aspect of my life. There were a few gay artists I knew socially, Warhol, and Rauschenberg, for instance, who was a neighbor near Coenties Slip in Lower Manhattan, where my first New York studio was located. But we were not friends. I explored the gay scene in New York a bit, but I never really felt a part of it. I didn’t like the club scene much either. I went to Max’s Kansas City, but it was not one of my favorite places, and I went to Studio 54 only once.”
Reclusive Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark on September 13, 1928. He was artist associated with the Pop Art movement. His LOVE print, first created for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card in 1965, was the basis for the widely distributed 1973 United States Postal Service LOVE stamp.
LOVE, in which the the letters L and O are stacked on top of V and E, became one of the most recognizable artworks of the 20th century. His famous sculpture has appeared on everything from T-shirts and totes to CD covers and stamps.
In 1978, he moved to the island of Vinalhaven, Maine (more than an hour from the continent by ferry) after he lost his lease on his five-floor NYC studio and gallery in The Bowery. He came back to NYC for a belated retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2013, and the announced:
”I doubt very much that I’ll be back. It’s become nastier and nastier. I don’t enjoy visiting New York anymore.”
Indiana left this wretched world on Saturday, taken by respiratory failure at his Victorian home in a converted Odd Fellows hall. Indiana, who was born in Indiana, settled in Maine when photographer Eliot Elisofon, a benefactor, bought the building for him. He was 89-years-old when he passed.
He will always be known for LOVE, but he created hundreds other works as well, including a design, similar to LOVE, in honor of Barack Obama, after the word became synonymous with Obama because that Shepard Fairey poster. In 2008, when Obama’s presidential candidacy was still something of a longshot, Indiana recast LOVE as another four-letter word, HOPE, complete with the same slanted O. Reproduced on T-shirts, badges and other merchandise, the HOPE works made more than a million dollars for Obama’s campaign. Indiana:
”I was hoping to help him. I was hoping Obama would fare well, and he did.”
For too many art lovers, Indiana was seen as the proverbial one-hit wonder because LOVE was so immensely iconic and immensely huge in pop culture. It overshadowed his other works.
Indiana’s work often consists of bold, simple, iconic images, especially numbers and short words like EAT and HUG. In his EAT series, the word blares in paint or light bulbs against a neutral background; he regularly paired EAT with DIE.
Gay architect Philip Johnson commissioned an EAT for his New York State Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The sign was turned off one day after the opening of the fair because visitors believed it to mark a restaurant. Andy Warhol‘s contribution to the fair was also removed that day.
Other public works by Indiana include: his painting the unique basketball court at Milwaukee’s MECCA Arena, with a large M shape taking up each half of the court; his sculpture in the lobby of the skyscraper Taipei 101, called 1-0 (2002), using multicolored numbers to suggest the patterns of human life, and the works he created after the 9/11 attacks and exhibited around NYC in called the Peace Paintings.
Between 1989 and 1994, Indiana painted a series of 18 canvases inspired by the shapes and numbers in the war paintings that Marsden Hartley did in Berlin between 1913–15. Gay painter Hartley also lived on Vinalhaven Island.
Indiana was also a theatre set and costume designer. He did the 1976 production by the Santa Fe Opera of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson‘s The Mother Of Us All. He was the star of Warhol’s film Eat (1964), which is a 45-minute film of Indiana eating a mushroom. Warhol also made the silent film Bob Indiana Etc. (1963), a portrait of the artist.
His need for solitude was so strong that he once failed to show up at a reception with President Obama at the White House. Another time he made a crew from NBC’s The Today Show wait days before he would let them interview him. In 2014, he disappointed dozens of fans by failing to make an appearance outside his home for an event dubbed International Hope Day, inspired by his work.
When the Whitney held the retrospective in 2013, Indiana quipped:
”Well, that’s taken a while.”
Indiana spoke out with wit against the current president:
”I have, right in front of me as I sit talking to you, a Mexican friend of mine. He’s a chihuahua. And he’s very disturbed and very depressed watching TV. He’s sure that Trump guy is going to do away with chihuahuas.”
In May 2011, a 12-foot LOVE sculpture, one in an edition of three, sold for $4.1 million.
His works are in the permanent collections of: Museum of Modern; Whitney Museum of American Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; McNay Art Museum; Carnegie Institute; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; and the Los Angeles County Museum, among many others.
“I want to cover the world in hope.”