THE AMERICAN LOVE, 1968 Oil on Canvas by Robert Indiana


"The word LOVE got to be the way it is because I have a kind of a passion about symmetry and the dividing of things into equal parts. The word LOVE is that way because those four letters best fit a square if the square is squared by that particular arrangement. And it was really that sort of a necessity for a very compact form that I came upon that arrangement… With the red, blue and green paintings the interaction in the eye is of such a nature that with the slightest change of light the fields automatically interchange, the positive becomes negative and vice versa, with almost a violent effect in the eye."


There are a number of variations on the word LOVE in Indiana’s output, with the most sought after being THE AMERICAN LOVE. In effect, each pair of canvases composes a loving couple, one lover chants “love,” and the other sings back “love.” This particular painting is so powerful a dance that Indiana wanted it to be the catalogue frontispiece for his 1999 retrospective, Love and the American Dream: The Art of Robert Indiana at the Portland Museum of Art. Indiana chose to have this particular diptych featured in his Portland retrospective because it has the three colors that comprise the American flag and rings with a sense of patriotism. Indiana wanted to emphasize with THE AMERICAN LOVE that he is an American sign maker. This painting reminds us that the American experiment, for all its faults, is about trust and love. America is beautiful.


Born Robert Clark in Indiana, Robert Indiana took his native state's name after moving to New York in 1954, a gesture that presaged his Popinspired fascination with Americana, signage, and the power of ordinary words. In his studio on Coenties Slip at the tip of Manhattan, Indiana made assemblages of scrap materials and found objects, using stencils to introduce words into his art. By the early 1960s he was creating eyepopping paintings of text, numbers, and symbols that related to the hardedge abstraction of the day and included political and social overtones. Later he moved to the island of Vinalhaven off the coast of Maine, where he worked until his death in 2018. Indiana studied various printmaking techniques at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but later settled on screen printing, a medium that suited his simplified forms and electric colors. In addition, the flexible screens could be easily reused to produce serial variations, a common practice in Indiana’s printmaking. In all, he has completed more than one hundred sixty prints, working with commercial and fine-art workshops worldwide, among them Edition Domberger, near Stuttgart, known for screen printing, and Vinalhaven Press, near his home, where he created lithographs and etchings. Few Pop images are more widely recognized than Indiana’s LOVE. Originally designed as a Christmas card commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art in 1965, LOVE has appeared in prints, paintings, sculptures, banners, rings, tapestries, and stamps. Full of erotic, religious, autobiographical, and political underpinnings—especially when it was co-opted as an emblem of 1960s idealism—LOVE is both accessible and complex in meaning. In printed works, Indiana has rendered LOVE in a variety of colors, compositions, and techniques. He even translated it into Hebrew for a print and a sculpture at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.