Skip to content
Black and white photograph of Robert Indiana, seated, next to his painting The American Dream, I

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.

Stable, a black and white painting advertising Indiana's 1963 show at the gallery. It is dominated by a circle enclosing a white star, surrounded by a white ring with the text "Stable 16 October 62" painted in black stenciled letters. Below the circle Indiana has been painted in white stenciled letters.

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.

 

The American Dream, I, a primarily black and brown painting with two rows of two circles, each containing a star, as well as references to major American highways and pinball machines. "The American Dream" is painted in multicolored stenciled letters in a ring around the lower right hand circle.

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.

Indiana's journal page for August 3–4, 1960, featuring text, a sketch of the sculpture Moon, and a clipping of a black and white image and cast list from Valentino's last film

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, a diamond shaped painting made up of four canvases. Each individual diamond canvas contains a circle against a black ground. Each circle contains a red numeral four against diagonal black and white stripes, within a ring with text. The top ring alternates between the word EAT in yellow against a red ground, and the word EAT in red against a yellow ground. The ring in the right panel alternates between the word TILT in red against a yellow ground and the word JILT in yellow against a red ground. The bottom ring is red and contains the text "The American Dream." The ring in the red panel alternates between the word JUKE in red against a yellow ground, and the word JACK in yellow against a red ground.

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.

Drawing by Robert Indiana of his studio at 25 Coenties Slip. The words appliances, radios, jewelry, and cameras appear written down the front of the building

Coenties Slip

Artist Statement

1963

Robert Indiana's The Electric EAT sculpture, an aluminum and stainless steel black circular sculpture with the word EAT in white with 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, an x-format painting made up of five diamond shaped panels, measuring 102 by 102 inches overall. Each panel consists of a black five against a star within a light gray pentagon within a black circle against a dark gray ground.

The X-5

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

February 14, 1964

A red and yellow painting of a poster design for the New York State Theater. The work has the text "New York / State / Theater / Lincoln / Center / 23 Apr 64," each letter or number is painted in red and appears in a yellow circle. A yellow design resembling a target is in the center of the poster.

Biography of a Poster

Artist Statement

April 1964

Fire Bridge, a diamond shaped black painting dominated by a circle, with its title painted in red letters below the circle. The circle contains a red, yellow, blue, and black, stylized image of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fire Bridge

Artist Statement

1965

Mate, a sculpture consisting of a wooden beam with a haunched tenon, on a wooden base. The bottom two thirds of the sculpture is painted black, and its title is painted in red stenciled letters across the front of the base. An iron wheel is affixed to the top front of the black section of the sculpture, and a number from 0 to 9 has been painted in white in between each spoke. Below the wheel is a wooden peg and a red arrow pointing to it. The two third of the sculpture is yellow, with an iron wheel affixed on the front of the sculpture and a red number from 0 to 9 painted between each spoke. Red diagonal stripes have been painted on left and right side of the yellow section of the sculpture.

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.

World's Fair installation view of Indiana's EAT, an X-shaped polychrome and stainless steel aluminum sculpture consisting of five black circles spelling the word EAT twice diagonally in white letters with light bulbs. Two circles contain the letter E, on circle the letter A, and two circles the letter T.

Eat

Artist Statement

1966

USA 666 (The Sixth American Dream), a yellow and black x-format painting, made up of five panels. Each panel has a circle divided in two, the top half yellow with USA painted in black, and the bottom black with a yellow word. The words are, clockwise from top left, "EAT,""DIE," "ERR," "HUG," and in the central panel "666."

USA 666 (The American Dream)

Artist Statement

1967

A painting dominated by two large double ginkgo leave forms. Above them is a row of red and black danger stripes. Below them is the painting's title, The Sweet Mystery, in blue stenciled letters. Below the title is a thicker band of red and black danger stripes.

The Sweet Mystery

Artist Statement

1968

Yield Brother, a painting with a red X against a black ground. On top of the X is a large blue circle containing four yellow circles each with a black peace sign. The work's title appears in blue stenciled letters across the bottom of the canvas.

Yield

Artist Statement

1968

Mother and Father, a primarily grisaille diptych. The first panel contains a circle with a portrait of the artist's mother, wearing a red cape and holding a blue purse, with one breast exposed. She stands next to a Model-T car with a yellow wheel. Below the circle is a the text A Mother Is a Mother. The second panel contains a circle with a portrait of the artist's father, in various shades of gray, barefoot and wearing a coat, next to a Model-T. The text below the circle reads "A Father Is a Father."

Mother and Father

Artist Statement

1968/1974

Robert Indiana's carved aluminum LOVE and the painting The Imperial 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, consisting of a letter L and a tilted letter O on top of the letters V and E.

LOVE Sculpture

Artist Statement

1969

Highball on the Redball Manifest, a painting with a black ground, dominated by a circular image resembling the front of a train. In the center of the painting a red circle holds a yellow number 25. This circle is within a gray circle with small black circles all around its edge. Wrapping around this circle is a black ring with the text "High Ball Redball Mannifest" painted in stenciled yellow letters and small gray circles around the text. A larger yellow circle sits between the words High and Ball

Highball on the Redball Manifest

Artist Statement, Michener Collection Archives

January 25, 1974

The Great American Dream: New York (The Glory-Star Version), a wax crayon on paper rubbing. A circle with the text The Great American Dream in the outer ring contains image of a steer. Above the circle are three stars, below the circle is the text "The Year of the Steer / New York / 1966"

The Great American Dream

Artist Questionnaire, Whitney Museum of American Art

ca. 1977

The American Sweetheart, a painting of six horizontal rows of four orbs against a blue background. The top row of orbs are white and contain a blue star. They are separated from the five lower orbs by a red stripe. The five lower orbs each contain a three letter female name. The painting's title, The American Sweetheart, appears in green stenciled letters at the bottom of the painting.

The American Sweetheart

Artist Statement

2002