Born as Robert Clark in the state of Indiana, the artist found his way to downtown New York in 1954 where he quickly settled in the Coenties Slip alongside artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, Agnes Martin and Lenore Tawney. Together these visionary artists were bound by a deep commitment to exploring form and the relationship between space, curves and edges in abstract shapes, taking their inspiration from the raw, industrial materials and commercial signage that was abound at the Slip. There is a sense of hard-edged and abstract beauty in the composition of Aspen Love in which the white Serif letters assert themselves against the flat, chromatic background of bright orange and sunny yellow. The strict 90 degree angles of L's and E's anchor the composition while the O's meet at the center, adding to the kaleidoscopic nature of the work. Upon deeper visual engagement, the legibility of the letters and familiar four-letter word they comprise recedes into abstraction, becoming an array of organic, flattened shapes. The tension between the ‘background’ or ‘foreground’ of jaunty orange and yellow and the precisely executed forms creates an endlessly engaging and dynamic visual experience inspired by the colors of the changing leaves glowing in the Aspen sun.
When recalling the birth of the Love series, the artist referred to memories of his childhood in Indiana, the state whose name he adopted as his own in 1958. His early church attendance provided a crucial source of inspiration: "The reason I became so involved in [art] is that [the church] 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.' Aspen Love 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.
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" (Exh. Cat., Rockland, Maine, The William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum (and traveling), Indiana’s Indianas, 1982, p. 8).
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