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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), 1964–66. Photo: Courtesy of Christie's, New York; Artwork: © Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

USA 666 is one of six paintings of the incomplete "Sixth American Dream" and it brings to the "Dreams" their starkest image: the unmistakable black and yellow high visibility reflex-making of the X-shaped railway crossing danger sign that punctuated the Indiana roads of my youth where instant death befell the occupants of stalled cars, school busses in foggy weather, or of autos racing into serious miscalculations before the onrushing always irresistible locomotive. 

USA 666 actually comes from multiple sources: the single six of my father’s birth month, June; the Phillips 66 sign of the gasoline company he worked for—the one sign that loomed largest in my life casting its shadow across the very route that my father took daily to and from his work and standing high in a blue sky, red and green as the company colors were at the time but changed upon the death of the founder of the company. (Which three colors make up half of the “Sixth Dream” series, as they are also predominant in the “LOVE” series for they are the most charged colors of my palette bringing an optical, near-electric quality to my work.) It also conjures up Route #66, the highway west for Kerouac and other Americans for whom “Go West” is a common imperative, whereas the common cold it is “Use 666,” the patent medicine that is the final referent and which on small metal plates affixed to farmers’ fences—black and yellow—dotted the pastures and fields like black-eyed susans in perennial bloom, alternating with even more ubiquitous Burma-Shave advertisements that brought elementary poetry as well to the farms and byways. In perhaps lesser profusion over the countryside bloomed the EAT signs that signalled the roadside diners that were usually originally converted railway cars of a now-disappeared electric interurban complex taken off their wheels and mounted on cement blocks when the motorbus ruined and put that system out of business in the thirties. In similar cheap cafes my mother supported herself and son by offering “home-cooked” meals for 25c when father disappeared behind the big 66 sign in a westerly direction out Route #66.


Published in Seitz, William C., and Lloyd Goodrich. São Paulo 9—United States of America: Edward Hopper [and] Environment U.S.A.: 1957–1967. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1967