Robert Indiana: . . . I was working part-time in an art store, selling art supplies, and I didn’t have money for large canvases or for all that paint, whether it would be Duco or what. So in my native urge to economize, I simply looked about, and there in front of my studio, down on the New York waterfront, were all these nineteenth-century buildings, being demolished. Here was all this gorgeous debris. Beams, pieces of iron, stencils, all kinds of treasure, and since I am basically a keeper, I collected this stuff and, of course, once it was in my studio—well, after amassing a certain quantity, What do you do with it? The forms which were most beautiful were the beams from these old buildings. And they were beautiful because not only did they have a gorgeous patination—the rain dripping on them, the age, they were all well over a hundred years old—but they had this peculiar shape on the top called a haunched tenon, which is simply the key for fitting one beam into another beam. There would be the female piece, and there would be the male piece and the two would lock together thanks to some very skilled rudimentary carpentry provided by Scandinavians at that time. I set them upright, and they really did look like hermae, the classical marble sculptures which would be set at roadsides and so forth, as road markers to the next town. I’d studied Latin for four years in high school and was very interested in the classical period. I thought I was updating the herm, for in those days you had to really think hard, because everybody was doing something, and if you wanted to be original or contribute something fresh, you really had to scrape pretty hard.
Barbaralee Diamonstein: Those hermae, or wood constructions, did you consider them sculpture?
Indiana: Of course.
Diamonstein: And they incorporated the word as well?
Indiana: They were not only sculptures in themselves—there was this key at the top—but then the beam itself had the female indentations on it, into which the other part would fit. And then I myself took a knife and I made extra carvings on these pieces. As I said, they were beautiful pieces of wood. I used only rusted iron. I put rusted wheels on them and various other elements. I grew a little weary of that because, as you can see, I do like color.
And so, around 1959, color started to appear on these early constructions. Somehow polychrome sculpture is not, or at that time wasn’t, too abundant. That was rather a different approach. And the word appeared. Now, exactly why the word appeared, I’m not sure, but after all I was basing them on hermae, and hermae were the road signs of antiquity; my hybrid accepted the cross-fertilization of our own contemporary road signs. Since columns are about this wide, the word couldn’t get much longer than Love, but most of them were really three-letter words: Eat and Die were two of my favorite words at that time.
Excerpt from Barbarelee Diamonstein. “Robert Indiana.” In Inside New York’s Art World, pp. 151–66. New York: Rizzoli, 1979.