Robert Indiana was born in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928. His family name was Clark but he adopted the name of his native state early in his career. His father worked for a Phillips 66 gas station and his mother ran a diner. He began his studies in art in 1945 at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and then at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York. He then moved to Chicago and continued his studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He also studied at the Skowhgan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, the Edinburgh College of Art and London University, eventually moving to New York City in 1956.
A major Pop Artist, his work is characterized by the use of words and relatively flat paint with no brush strokes. This cold and somewhat mechanical approach to painting in which the words are often stenciled into the design probably was influenced by street signs, pinball machines, the commercial stenciling process used in printing and advertisements. In fact, Indiana calls himself "a painter of signs". He uses the common everyday symbols and words of America and paints them as brilliantly colored pop art paintings. His work comments in an ironic fashion on American life and culture, often making pointed political statements about American society.
The words in his painting are usually simple and short words, sometimes with clear meaning and other times arranged in an ambiguous fashion to project multiple meanings, and occasionally involve puns. It is interesting to try to put his "words" together to get a sense of the meaning. For instance, in The Triumph of Tira, painted in, 1960-61, the artist presents four circles with four squares inside them and four stars inside the squares. There is one word in each star. The upper left says "Law"; the upper right says "Cat"; the lower left says "Men"; and the lower right says "Sex." Of course it is hard to understand the relationship between the words, and as you begin to speculate on what it might mean, a number of possible interpretations evolve.
Other works have more obvious meanings, sometimes political. One painting shows an outline of the State of Alabama with Selma marked in the right location. The words "Just as in the anatomy of man, every nation must have its hind part", are stenciled around the map. This is a reference to the march on Selma, which was an important event in the Civil Rights Movement during the 60's.
Indiana's most famous painting is of the word "Love". It is painted with the LO on the top and VE on the bottom. This painting was used as a design for an American postage stamp in 1973, which became very popular. Since then there have been a number of other American stamps with the word love on them, but Indiana's was the first. In addition to the stamp, the image was reproduced countless times during the 70s, as poster, candles, t-shirts and many other items.
Indiana continues to work as an artist and recently (2000) released a print with the image 2000 on it arranged in a pattern similar to that of the LOVE design.