ONE Through ZERO (The Ten Numbers) is a monumental example of Robert Indiana’s long-held fascination with the power of numbers, a subject which stands as one of his most important iconographic themes. Indiana credited his enduring interest in numbers to the formative experience of moving households multiple times as a child, having lived in twenty-one different homes by the age of seventeen. He emphasized the variety of meanings and associations that numbers can generate, and every number had specific personal resonance for him, related either to events in his own life (such as highway routes and buildings where he lived), or to the cycle of life itself, with the number one representing birth, and the number zero standing for death.
Indiana began to apply numbers to his sculptural assemblages and paintings in the early 1960s, and by the mid-1960s numbers as a subject in their own right had become one of the signature motifs of his painting. The Ten Numbers were originally executed between 1980 and 1983 for a special commission for a developer in Indianapolis; these eight-foot sculptures were subsequently donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He then created several series of number sculptures in different scales and finishes, including this six-foot series, which was exhibited along New York’s Park Avenue in 2003 as part of Art in the Parks, and in London in 2013 as part of Sculpture in the City.
ONE Through ZERO conveys a characteristic blending of the disciplines of painting and sculpture that is one of the distinguishing features of Indiana’s work. Like his sculptural interpretation of his originally two-dimensional LOVE, it suggests that the printed form has been extruded into space. The depth of the numbers, which is about half their width, gives the forms a monumental solidity that underlines the way the sculptures stand as a poetic condensation of Indiana’s engagement with the symbolic, allegorical, and formal aspects of numbers. As with the letters of the alphabet, Indiana’s Numbers can be arranged in different ways to generate different meanings through their combinations and juxtapositions.
The palette of Indiana’s ONE Through ZERO is also loaded with symbolism. He explained the choice of colors as follows: red and blue are associated with birth in ONE; green and blue signify infancy in TWO; orange and blue represent youth in THREE; yellow and red are connected with adolescence in FOUR; white and blue signify the pre-prime of life in FIVE; green and red signify the prime of life in SIX; blue and orange suggest early autumn of life in SEVEN; purple and red signal autumn in EIGHT; black and yellow convey a sense of warning in NINE; and shades of gray signal the end of the life cycle in ZERO. The use of contrasting colors on the flat frontal planes versus the contours creates a dramatic contrast of colors, which is amplified in the shifting play of the colors as one moves around them.