Robert Indiana, one of the preeminent figures in American
art since the 1960s, has played a central role in the development of assemblage
art, hard-edge painting and Pop art. A self proclaimed “American painter of
signs,” Indiana has created a highly original body of work that explores
American identity, personal history and the power of abstraction and language,
establishing an important legacy that resonates in the work of many
contemporary artists who make the written word a central element of their oeuvre.
Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana
on September 13, 1928. Adopted as an infant, he spent his childhood moving
frequently throughout his namesake state. His artistic talent was evident at an
early age, and its recognition by a first grade teacher encouraged his decision
to become an artist. In 1942 Indiana moved to Indianapolis in order to attend Arsenal Technical
High School, known for
its strong arts curriculum. After graduating he spent three years in the U.S.
Air Force and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan
School of Sculpture and Painting in Maine, and
the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.
In 1956, two years after moving to New
York, Indiana met Ellsworth Kelly,
and upon his recommendation took up residence in Coenties Slip, once a major
port on the southeast tip of Manhattan.
There he joined a community of artists that would come to include Kelly, Agnes
Martin, James Rosenquist and Jack Youngerman. The environment of the Slip had a
profound impact on Indiana’s
work, and his early paintings include a series of hard-edge double ginkgo
leaves inspired by the trees which grew in nearby Jeannette Park. He also
incorporated the ginkgo form into his 19-foot mural Stavrosis (1958),
a crucifixion pieced together from forty-four sheets of paper that he found in
his loft. It was upon completion of this work that Indiana adopted the name of his native state
as his own.
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