Arthur Carr: Do you have any other thoughts on these number paintings?
Robert Indiana: . . . Of course, since they are very recent paintings I’m very close to them right now. They are some of the most, some of the favorite things that I have done. I would say that they were the hardest paintings, just from a technical standpoint.
Carr: Most difficult to do?
Indiana: They are the most difficult paintings that I’ve done yet because they involved long, unbroken areas of a single color, which requires a certain demand in brushwork and so forth, which is difficult and which most of my painting does not require. Only the backgrounds in my paintings present the same problem as all of the areas of these, in that there are no cut-off places. The areas continue for a long area and this becomes, this becomes difficult.
Carr: Robert, will you tell me just what technically is the problem. Is it that you have to do it hurriedly so that one section isn’t dry—
Carr: Or is time not important?
Indiana: Yes, time is very important, Arthur, but it isn’t necessary so much time. It’s a matter of keeping brush strokes going in the same direction and keeping a total area moving at the same time. Because if one stops at a certain area and then goes back to catch up, almost invariably there’s going to be a kind of over-lapping or a break between those two areas. So the ideal is to keep the area of color moving. Now, that’s fine until you reach a point where you have to branch off. Now if one could paint with the right hand and the left hand, at the same time, and keep those two branches moving at the same time, fine. But that isn’t possible, so that when one area branches off and you get around and back to where you left the other part, there’s been a drying process taking place and so that’s why it’s difficult.
Carr: How do you manage that? Is there any particular technique?
Indiana: To work swiftly. To work swiftly and to, just to exercise quite a bit of care. . . . it’s possible to see it in the painting under the light over there—you can tell where certain brush strokes left off and where others began and that is a break. Now, I’m not that concerned about this because I’ve decided a long time ago that it was not my ideal to make my paintings look as if they had been printed or as if a machine had done them and that if there are these slight imperfections, that’s part of the process of doing something by hand. Now, you saw my new Paris Review poster. Every time I get something done by silkscreen I’m so pleased at the flawless, unbroken, flat surface, I mean it’s very beautiful and I would like to come close to that, too, but then when I think about it, not really, because that’s a, that’s a very dead uniform, just too perfect a surface. The printed surface is flawless but that, that isn’t really life.
Carr: You don’t see that as an ideal for your paintings?
Indiana: Well, of course, I do see it as an ideal, Arthur, but I don’t see the realization of that ideal as being very ideal, to put it that way. I would like to aim for something close but there is a kind of boredom or a kind of deathlike quality to something which is so perfect. And I’ve never yet seen a print that, that really can compete with the life of the painting.
Carr: This would suggest that smaller paintings in general are much, much easier to do than the very large ones.
Indiana: No. That isn’t necessarily so—
Carr: Not so?
Indiana: What is easier to do is any painting which, and this is what is a little ironic about my work, most collectors and most people who either buy or like my work prefer the complicated things with lots of small areas and a kind of busyness and they’re the easiest paintings to do. It’s the simpler ones that are the taxing ones and the difficult ones and they’re the least popular.
Excerpt from Arthur C. Carr “The Reminiscences of Robert Indiana.” New York, November 1965. Arthur C. Carr papers; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.