New Castle is an important example of Indiana’s paintings dedicated to geographical sites of personal significance to him. This 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, as he returned to themes dealing with the state throughout his career. By changing his name from Clark to Indiana in 1954, he both sought to stand out in the New York art scene, but also underlined his connection with his home state and mid-western roots. The phrase “No. 1,” inscribed at the top of the canvas, has autobiographical resonance, as it proclaims New Castle as the first of the geographical locations that played a role in his life, while the number also signifies the idea of the individual.
Indiana’s use of shades of brown conjures the image of the soil of the corn and wheat fields that surrounded the town of New Castle, or more broadly the humble character of life in the mid-western town. The phrase “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, Indiana makes 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 effectively alludes to vernacular of highway signs that Indiana so often adapted as important symbolic and aesthetic elements of his art. This 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.