From the outset of his career, Indiana's fascination with the potential and social relevance of signage and language, established Indiana as “a painter of signs”. The pivotal problematic of whether the word would prove an appropriate element in art is masterfully solved through his Love series, exemplifying the artist's success in creating a striking and profound artwork through a single word.
The Love motif first appeared in the 1966 Love painting, a combination of bold red letters on a blue and green square canvas. After several years of the circle, the universal symbol of the eternal being the dominating form in his work, this was the return to a quartered aesthetic. As the protruding position of the O in his Love sculptures makes obvious however, the importance of this symbolic representation of the endless phases of time, remained an underlying thought throughout his work.
Continuing this exploration of a philosophical subject matter, the initial thought behind the image of Love was spiritual. Coming from a Christian Scientist background the message of “God is Love” was a permanent constituent in the artist’s life. Once established, the pivotal theme of Love lent itself to a wealth of possibilities, both visually and conceptually. Indiana’s concrete poem “Wherefore the Punctuation of the Heart” 1958-69, for example, is an ingenious display of the diverse connotations of the word, ranging from the sublime to the worldly.
The successful development of this iconic image, and its strong connection to the zeitgeist of the time, meant the motif was replicated into a variety of different mediums, both by the artist and by the public alike. Not surprisingly, a social commentary unsettled Indiana’s initial spiritual intent, as the artist himself started to engage with the political temper of the time. However, despite the complexity of the motif’s context, the evolution of the symbol’s visual language remained in line with Indiana’s striving for a clear, communicative aesthetic. His bold use of vibrant colour and its mesmerising optical effect was an inherent part of this artistic aim.
Even though his exploration of the optical effect of colour can be related to the works of the Op artists and especially those of his close friend Ellsworth Kelley, his visual imagery was more immediately akin to that of the Pop Artists. However, Indiana himself claims he was “always on the fringe of pop.” (Robert Indiana interviewed in Full Circle (American Poetry Centre, Penn Valley, Pa.; 2000), 8-minute video) and despite the strong alignment to the visual and cultural interests of the time, his works always retained an autobiographical aspect. The primary spiritual intent of the work thereby always persisted, resulting in a unique yet universally resonating artistic triumph.
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