Born in Indiana, Robert Clark burst upon the New York art scene in 1954 and settled at 31 Coenties Slip in Manhattan, joining a small group of artists that included Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Lenore Tawney and Jack Youngerman. These artists were bound by a commitment to form and the relationships between space, curves and edges in abstract shapes. Coenties Slip proved a fertile environment for these artists who found inspiration in the raw, industrial materials and commercial signage that were so prevalent in the area, and indeed the influence of signs is evident in The Great American LOVE (Love Wall). Although the letters are easily understood as spelling the word Love, there is a hard-edged and abstract beauty in the composition of the white serif letters asserting themselves against the flat, chromatic background of bright blue and vivid red. Four six-foot square panels of blue and red form an even grid that seduces and overwhelms the audience in its pure physical presence and scale. The strict 90 degree angles of L and E anchor the composition solidly in the upper left and lower right corner. V thrusts upward to meet the lower corner of L and sweep smoothly into E. The strict geometry of this work is interrupted by O, which cants outward in a note of jaunty discordance. Upon deeper visual engagement, the audience can relinquish its grasp on the legibility of the word, instead turning to the purity of the blue and red ‘negative spaces’ that resolve into elegant shapes in and of themselves. The tension between the ‘background’ or ‘foreground’ of startling color and precisely executed forms creates an endlessly engaging and dynamic visual experience.
When recalling the birth of the Love series, the artist referred to memories of his childhood in Indiana, the state whose name he adopted in 1958. His early church attendance provided a crucial source of inspiration: “The reason I became so involved in [it] is that it was so much a part of the peculiar American environment, particularly in my own background, which was Christian Scientist. ‘God is Love’ is spelled out in every church.” (Robert Indiana quoted in Theresa Brakely, ed., Robert Indiana, New York, 1990, p. 154) Indeed, in the first appearance of the word Love within Indiana’s oeuvre - a painting entitled Love is God from 1964 - Indiana cleverly inverted the religious message that had made such a powerful impression on him as a young artist. Shortly thereafter, the quadrilateral Love motif emerged within Indiana’s work, rapidly becoming emblematic of the ‘Love Generation.’ The Great American LOVE (Love Wall) also reveals a Pop Art sensibility in its graphic impact and sign-like quality that recalls both New York artists such as Andy Warhol and West Coast artists like Ed Ruscha. The central agenda of the Pop Art phenomenon is brilliantly illustrated here by Indiana’s usage of industrial craftsmanship and razor sharp precision in order to configure an emblem that has become a sensational brand unto itself.
Of the incredible fame of this icon that has transcended cultures and languages, Indiana has said, “I had no idea LOVE would catch on the way it did. Oddly enough, I wasn’t thinking at all about anticipating the Love generation and hippies. It was a spiritual concept...It’s become the very theme of love itself.” (The artist quoted in Exh. Cat., Rockland, Maine, The William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum (and travelling), Indiana’s Indianas, 1982, p. 8). The Great American LOVE (Love Wall) is a lasting monument to the most iconic output of the artist, an enormous tribute to a timeless and universal ideal.
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