Decade: Autoportrait 1960 belongs to the series of symbolic self-portraits that Indiana created as a meditation on his life and career in the 1960s. The series, created in the 1970s, is comprised of works in three different sizes; the present work is an example of the 48 inch square version, which was included in a 1972 solo exhibition at the Denise René Gallery in New York.
Representing the opening year in this transformative decade, Decade: Autoportrait 1960 makes reference to some of the most important people and places in the development of Indiana’s artistic career. The inscription “THE WATERFRONT,” which grounds the composition, refers to Coenties Slip, where Indiana lived from 1956–65. The area, on the Southeast tip of Manhattan, had once been the center of the shipping trade in New York, and became home to a vanguard art community in the late 1950s. The inscriptions “PEARL” and “SOUTH ST” both refer to neighboring streets near Indiana’s Coenties Slip studios. Fellow artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns lived on Pearl Street in the early fifties, while Agnes Martin and Jack Youngerman occupied studios on South Street in the early sixties.
A reference to a close friend at the time is found in the phrase “ELLS” which refers to Ellsworth Kelly, the artist who was responsible for introducing Indiana to Coenties Slip. As Indiana has often acknowledged, Kelly was one of the most important influences of his early career, particularly in his exploration of hard-edged abstract forms and brilliant colors. The inscription “ICI,” which means “here” in French, can be seen as a declarative statement that underlines the significance of the places cited in the work.
Although 1960 marked the beginning of the decade, Indiana viewed the year’s last numeral, “0,” as the tenth digit, referring to his various series of numbers as One Through Zero. Thus, as the end of the cycle of numbers, zero also symbolizes death. The somber shades of gray in this work underline this idea, and are used in many of Indiana’s other renderings of the number. By being aligned with both the idea of beginnings and endings, the painting encodes complex ideas about the cycle of life.
The composition of Decade: Autoportrait 1960 is based on a series of forms that had particular resonance for Indiana, including the numeral “1,” which represents the idea of the individual; a five-sided star, which alludes to the stars of the American flag; and a decagon, whose ten sides make reference to the theme of the decade. These shapes, together with the fragments of text that include “IND,” the abbreviation of the artist’s name, are layered upon one another, suggesting overlapping transparent planes. Indiana’s masterful handling of these interpenetrating visual planes is particularly notable in this work, and demonstrates his unique adaptation of the heritage of Cubism and American Precisionism into his own formal language.