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Artist Statement, Stable Gallery, 1962

Artist Statement, Stable Gallery, 1962

I paint the American scene (A non-provincialism, for, in truth, this has become in large part the world reality) in an American way (automatically & perforce this reads new) which is a style characterized by high color (combustible polychromy), high relief (the Hard-edged rationale), high poetry (the sharp focus metaphor), high refinement (a classical idealization) & high endeavor (commensurate with the best and the most awful American tradition of lofty purpose), or, in more Hoosier-graphic words: my art is a disciplined high dive—high soar, simultaneous & polychromous, an exaltation of the verbal-visual . . . my dialogue.

 

Artist Statement

Artist Statement

Museum of Modern Art, New York

December 1961

Only that I am American. Only that I am of my generation, too young for regional realism, surrealism, magic realism, and abstract expressionism and too old to return to the figure. Only that for the last five years I have lived and worked on the Slip and the water front, where signs are much more profuse than trees (farewell, Nature), and much more colorful than the people of the city (farewell, Humanity), and the scene much too busy for calm plastic relationships (farewell, Pure Intellect). Not wishing at all to unsettle the shades of Homer, Eakins, Bellows, Sheeler, Hopper, Marin, et al, I propose to be an American painter, not an internationalist speaking some glib visual Esperanto; possibly I intend to be a Yankee. (Cuba, or no Cuba.)

I am an American painter of signs charting the course. I would be a people's painter as well as a painter's painter. I feel that I am at the front of a wave not over-dense with fish.

The American Dream, I

The American Dream, I

Artist Questionnaire, Museum of Modern Art, New York

December 11, 1961

My "model" was Mae West (appearing at the time of execution of this painting on the television Late Late Show in "Night after Night" – 1932) who is the most American bloom to have flowered on this "scene," which, in my case, is obviously *A*M*E*R*I*C*A*N*, and loaded with "personal," "topical," and "symbolic" significance, namely all those dear and much-travelled U.S. Routes: #40, #29, #37 (on which I have lived) and #66 of U.S. Air Force days; those awful five bases of The American Game; the TILT of all those millions of Pin Ball Machines and Juke Boxes in all those hundreds of thousands of grubby bars and roadside cafes, alternate spiritual Homes of the American; and star-studded Take All, well-established American ethic in all realms—spiritual, economic, political, social, sexual and cultural. Full-stop.

Moon

Moon

Artist Questionnaire, Museum of Modern Art, New York

December 11, 1961

Topically this piece may have something to do with Man’s intrusion on Orb Moon—an heraldic stele, so to speak, but a definite statement is out of keeping with the times, therefore let it stand as "A Formal Study in Wood, Gesso and Iron." The technique, if successful, is that happy transmutation of the Lost into the Found, Junk into Art, the Neglected into the Wanted, the Unloved into the Loved, Dross into Gold, hence: ALCHEMY, what Man has been looking for as long as for God, which—BEWARE—in Mr. Canaday’s sagacious words is unmistakably Foolsgold. Otherwise the technique might be described as "latter-day craft on early-day craft." This piece is the major one of my constructions from the Winter of 1960–61, although probably of parallel standing to "The Marine Works" from the same period and exhibited in the same initial show, and fully representative of a body of about twenty assemblages. It is, and is very neatly divorced from several thousand years of accumulated art tradition and point of view. Dada is a very distant relative and the New York Building Boom the Father-of-it-All.

The Beware-Danger American Dream #4

The Beware-Danger American Dream #4

Artist Questionnaire, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

1963

THE AMERICAN DREAM is an ongoing series of paintings begun in 1960 and which became the artist’s first major canvas to be sold and the purchaser was the Museum of Modern Art. Obviously the fourth in the series the “BEWARE DANGER” designation comes from the very nature of the number “4” itself, which in the scale of man’s life from one to ten, indicates adolesence [sic] and a reference to road signs which signal “Danger” via these colors. Here there is also the oblique reference to the German Nazi flag which heralded great “danger” to all mankind, not only in the colors, but in the very configuration of the four “4”s when arranged in this manner, greatly suggesting the swastika. The impact of the Second World War on America is, of course, a matter of history.

Coenties Slip

Coenties Slip

Artist Statement

1963

Robert Indiana's The Electric EAT sculpture, Polychrome aluminum, stainless steel, and light bulbs

Artist Statement

1963

The New Art does tend to convey the artist’s superb intuition that modern man, with his loss of identity, submersion in mass culture, beset by mass destruction, is man’s greatest problem, and that Art hardly provides the Solution—some optimistic, glowing, harmonious, humanitarian, plastically perfect Lost Chord of Life.

The New Art is a re-enlistment in the world. It is the American Dream, optimistic, generous, and naïve. . . . It springs newborn out of a boredom with the finality and over-saturation of Abstract Expressionism which, by its own esthetic logic is the end of the long pyramidal creative process. Stifled by this rarefied atmosphere, some young painters turn back to some less exalted things like Coca-Cola, ice-cream, sodas, big hamburgers, supermarkets, and EAT signs.

 

Published in Alloway, Lawrence. The New Art. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University, 1964

The X-5

The X-5

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

February 14, 1964

Biography of a Poster

Biography of a Poster

Artist Statement

April 1964

Fire Bridge

Fire Bridge

Artist Statement

1965

Mate

Mate

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

February 17, 1966

"Mate" was done in those days on Coenties Slip when I didn't have money for stretchers and canvas of the scale that I wanted to work on and so instead plundered the nearby demolition sites for those choice pieces of beams that included the "haunched tenons" or the locking devices hand cut mainly for stair and shaft openings, which I would scout for during the day and return at night to drag away, hoping that Steve Durkee or Mark di Suervo had not spotted the same piece for we three were in great hot competition for these pieces in those years and often lost out to each other. Most of the beams were too heavy to handle alone requiring an accomplice to carry them back to 25 and up five flights of stairs, for at that time I occupied only one floor of the building and my painting and constructing were done in the same small loft at the hard top, and so "mate" had special meaning for the accomplishement of everything. And it was the waterfront, and across the park from my loft was the Seamen's Institute where I took my meals and took my baths, as my building was really cold water and where the designation "mate" was common usage.

Eat

Eat

Artist Statement

1966

USA 666 (The American Dream)

USA 666 (The American Dream)

Artist Statement

1967

The Sweet Mystery

The Sweet Mystery

Artist Statement

1968

Yield

Yield

Artist Statement

1968

The Demuth American Dream No. 5

The Demuth American Dream No. 5

Artist Statement

1968

The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson

The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson

Artist Statement

1968

Mother and Father

Mother and Father

Artist Statement

1968/1974

Robert Indiana's carved aluminum LOVE on display at the Stable Gallery in 1966

LOVE Sculpture

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

November 15, 1968

LOVE is a subject that I have been working on since 1965 in a series of paintings though it was anticipated by a painting commissioned by Larry Aldrich for his museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut—LOVE IS GOD, 1964, 68 x 68”, (diamond), oil on canvas. The paintings range from early one-foot LOVES to the most recent LOVE CROSS, 1968, 180 x 180”, University of St. Thomas, Houston, and the BLACK AND WHITE LOVE, 1968, 144 x 144”, a partial gift to the Martin Luther King benefit. The sculpture LOVE is in a sense a culmination and a return to the third dimension after a general lapse of several years. It was conceived specially for the LOVE show at Stable Gallery in May, 1966, where it was the pivotal piece for a wide range of LOVE paintings. It is the model for the LOVE Ring in gold made by the Rare Rings Division of the Beautiful Bag Company of Philadelphia in an edition of 100. I am now working on its extension into a sculpture twelve feet high in steel.

Robert Indiana's aluminum, hand-cut and mirror-finished LOVE sculpture

LOVE Sculpture

Artist Statement

1969

Highball on the Redball Manifest

Highball on the Redball Manifest

Artist Statement, Michener Collection Archives

January 25, 1974

The Great American Dream

The Great American Dream

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

ca. 1977

The American Sweetheart

The American Sweetheart

Artist Statement

2002

The Route to the Mother of Us All

The Route to the Mother of Us All

Artist Statement

Undated