New Castle is an important example of Indiana’s paintings dedicated to geographical sites of personal significance. The work celebrates the artist’s place of birth, the small town of New Castle, located in central Indiana. His home state remained important to him, and he returned to themes dealing with the state throughout his career. In 1958 the artist changed his name from Clark to Indiana, a name chosen both to help him stand out in the New York art scene and to connect him to his home state and Midwestern roots.
New Castle‘s shades of brown conjure images of the soil of the corn and wheat fields that surrounded the town, or more broadly the humble character of Midwestern life. The phrase “No. 1,” inscribed at the top of the canvas, has autobiographical resonance, proclaiming New Castle as the first of the many geographical locations that played a role in Indiana’s life, and also signifies the idea of the individual. “BIG BLUE,” emblazoned in bright red against a vivid blue backdrop, refers to the Big Blue River that runs through New Castle and its environs.
At the center of the composition is a reference to Highway 38, which runs east-west through New Castle, part of the complex network of intersecting roads, railroad lines, and highways that earned the state of Indiana the nickname “Crossroads of America.” Framed in a circle at the heart of canvas, it alludes to the highway signs that Indiana so often adapted as important symbolic and aesthetic elements of his art. The reference to the highway situates New Castle as one of the many towns through which Indiana would travel in his peripatetic childhood. Automobiles were also one of the products manufactured in factories around the area where Indiana grew up, and the formal treatment of the number 38 and the words “BIG BLUE,” which boldly project from a single vanishing point at the center, suggests the speed of a car rushing forward down the highway.