Grass belongs to a series of small paintings that Indiana created between 1961 and 1962. Intimate concrete word compositions, these works illustrate Indiana’s verbal-visual approach to painting. A single monosyllabic stenciled word occupies either the upper or lower segment of the canvases, and an image or field of pure color dominates the other. Indiana noted, in a 1963 interview with Richard Brown Baker, “that the word, the object, and the idea are almost inextricably locked in the mind, and to divide them and break them down doesn’t have to be done.” He aimed to undo the compartmentalization of these different elements, demanding that they be read as interdependent, with the viewer losing conscious grasp of words and images as distinct.
At 10 x 8 inches Grass is one of the smaller works in the series, and it varies from that of the other works in that the field of color dominates almost the entire canvas. Also, the majority of the paintings in the series incorporate the short three and four letter words with which Indiana has come to be identified, while grass is a five letter word. The green color field and text suggest the literal meaning of the title, yet Indiana’s interest in themes from American literature means it can also be interpreted as a reference to Walt Whitman’s poetry anthology Leaves of Grass. This links the work to the artist’s larger literary paintings such as Year of Meteors (1961), which directly quotes a poem by Whitman that appeared in the anthology.