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robert indiana

15 Things You Should Know About Robert Indiana's LOVE

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robert indiana

You've no doubt seen Robert Indiana's LOVE. Versions of LOVE have been seen all over the world in paintings, photos, and—in the case of his popular monuments—in person. But while LOVE is everywhere, the facts behind its creation and rise to fame are heartbreaking. 

1. THE EARLY RENDITIONS WERE STARKLY DIFFERENT.

In 1961, Indiana painted a canvas in different shades of red that said "LOVE" on the bottom and had four stars, which he would credit as giving him the idea to stack the letters. But the more immediate ancestor came in 1964, when Indiana pulled inspiration from his religious roots to create Love is God. The grey-scale diamond-shaped painting took its inspiration from an inscription in Indiana’s childhood Christian Science church that read, "God is Love." According to Indiana, “Although the Love Is God canvas bears no relationship to what now has become a logo, it started me thinking about the subject of love.”

2. LOVE AS WE KNOW IT BEGAN AS A CHRISTMAS CARD. 

Through his exploration in text art, Indiana created his first LOVE for personal Christmas cards in 1964. Perhaps he sent one to the folks at the Museum of Modern Art. The following year, the museum commissioned him to design a similar Christmas card to be sold in its gift shop. The LOVE card quickly became one of the store’s most popular items. 

3. ITS INSPIRATIONS WERE DEEPLY PERSONAL.

In the wake of his father's death, Indiana paid tribute to his departed parent with the colors of his 1966 painting, LOVE. The red and green were meant to recall the sign of the Phillips 66 where his father toiled during the artist's hardscrabble childhood when he was still known as Robert Clark. The blue represented the sky of his home state and chosen namesake, Indiana. 

4. THE CHRISTMAS CARD'S SUCCESS LED TO A WHOLE EXHIBITION.

In 1966, Indiana held the LOVE Show at the Stable Gallery, which boasted paintings, drawings, and small sculptures that all played up on the word and its rendering in the bestselling card. The work spoke to the peace and love generation, so the show drew national media attention, including coverage on NBC. 

5. LOVE SPREAD QUICKLY. 

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Indiana created bigger LOVE paintings, and in 1970 built the first of many large LOVE sculptures for public display. The monumental statue and its maker went on a short tour that stopped at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Boston City Hall, and Manhattan's Central Park. The 12-foot by 12-foot by 6-foot structure drew such crowds that Indiana made more. They can be found in major cities like Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans, Vancouver, Lisbon, Tokyo, and Singapore.   

6. THE CHRISTMAS CARD LED TO A VALENTINE'S DAY STAMP. 

Indiana oversaw the design for the United States Postal Service LOVE stamp that was first printed in 1973. With more than 300 million copies sold, it became one of the best-selling commemorative stamps of all time (although technically it’s a special stamp, not a commemorative), spreading LOVE around the globe with each new printing. 

7. LOVE EMERGED AS A LITERAL SIGN OF THE TIMES. 

Soon, LOVE was everywhere. The Broadway cast of Hair posed before a LOVE statue for a promotional shoot. The already iconic text treatment was being reproduced on cufflinks, rings, album and book covers, all tapping into the counterculture zeitgeist of the '60s and '70s. As Hélène Depotte explained in Robert Indiana: Retrospective 39, "It has left its creator behind to attain an expansive autonomy of its own. LOVE reflected a whole state of mind, a general aspiration, and a universal utopia." 

8. EVEN AS THE PIECE BECAME AN ICON, FAME ELUDED INDIANA ... 

In 1976, he admitted, "Everybody knows my LOVE, but they don't have the slightest idea what I look like. I'm practically anonymous." 

9. AND LOVE DIDN'T MAKE HIM RICH. 

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Or at least not as rich as you'd think. Indiana failed to copyright his LOVE design, so opportunistic copycats began springing up left and right, churning out cheap aluminum paperweights and other baubles that would never earn their true designer a dime. Later, he struggled to gain a patent because trademark courts refused to grant a copyright for a single word. Further efforts did little to stop the flood of imitators.  

10. ALL THE SAME, LOVE BRANDED INDIANA A SELL-OUT. 

In the eyes of Indiana’s artistic peers, designing a MoMA Christmas card was one thing. But when Indiana opened "Love Show," it sent a signal that he considered his commercial work part of his artistic career, which rankled the art world’s elite. They saw Indiana's small LOVE sculptures not as a way to make art more accessible to cash-strapped would-be collectors, but as pandering to the mainstream. The overexposure caused by knockoffs of his work only made matters worse. 

11. INDIANA TRIED TO USE PHOTOGRAPHS TO FORGE A CONNECTION WITH HIS WORK.

"I wasn't aware that I was disrespected," Indiana told NPR in a 2014 interview, "I've only been neglected." When LOVE took off, he began a personal campaign to be pictured with his pieces to remind the public of the man behind them.   

12. LOVE MADE INDIANA A RECLUSE. 

By 1978, the artist was exhausted by New York and its overwhelming and often hostile art scene. So, he packed up and moved to the isolated Maine island of Vinalhaven. "LOVE bit me," he confessed in the NPR interview, "It was a marvelous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake. It became too popular; it became too popular. And there are people who don't like popularity. It's much better to be exclusive and remote. That's why I'm on an island off the coast of Maine, you see." 

13. LOVE HAS BEEN TRANSLATED. 

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A Hebrew version can be found at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. But 1998's AMOR snagged headlines in 2015 when the Philadelphia Museum of Art proudly exhibited the piece to celebrate Pope Francis's historic visit to the City of Brotherly Love. The Spanish translated piece was meant as a tribute to the Argentinian pontiff's native tongue. 

14. ITS TILTED O MAY HOLD A BAWDY MEANING.

Critics have praised how the tilt of LOVE's "O" makes for a strong design line to the "V." But some have pointed out that this slant might be meant to mirror a mouth or the male anatomy

15. LOVE NO LONGER PAINS INDIANA.

For decades, LOVE was both Indiana’s most popular work and to some degree the bane of his existence. That state of affairs changed in 2008 when Indiana found himself inspired by a long-shot presidential candidate named Barack Obama. In a bid to help promote the Illinois senator in his campaign, the reclusive artist re-emerged with HOPE. This led to Hope Day as well as exhibitions of his work that urged critics and the public alike to reconnect with Indiana. Today, he is favorably compared to other Pop Art pioneers like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons.

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Ape Meets Girl
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Pop Culture
Epic Gremlins Poster Contains More Than 80 References to Classic Movies
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Ape Meets Girl

It’s easy to see why Gremlins (1984) appeals to movie nerds. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus, the film has horror, humor, and awesome 1980s special effects that strike a balance between campy and creepy. Perhaps it’s the movie’s status as a pop culture treasure that inspired artist Kevin Wilson to make it the center of his epic hidden-image puzzle of movie references.

According to io9, Wilson, who works under the pseudonym Ape Meets Girl, has hidden 84 nods to different movies in this Gremlins poster. The scene is taken from the movie’s opening, when Randall enters a shop in Chinatown looking for a gift for his son and leaves with a mysterious creature. Like in the film, Mr. Wing’s shop in the poster is filled with mysterious artifacts, but look closely and you’ll find some objects that look familiar. Tucked onto the bottom shelf is a Chucky doll from Child’s Play (1988); above Randall’s head is a plank of wood from the Orca ship made famous by Jaws (1975); behind Mr. Wing’s counter, which is draped with a rug from The Shining’s (1980) Overlook Hotel, is the painting of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II (1989). The poster was released by the Hero Complex Gallery at New York Comic Con earlier this month.

“Early on, myself and HCG had talked about having a few '80s Easter Eggs, but as we started making a list it got longer and longer,” Wilson told Mental Floss. “It soon expanded from '80s to any prop or McGuffin that would fit the curio shop setting. I had to stop somewhere so I stopped at 84, the year Gremlins was released. Since then I’ve thought of dozens more I wish I’d included.”

The ambitious artwork has already sold out, but fortunately cinema buffs can take as much time as they like scouring the poster from their computers. Once you think you’ve found all the references you can possibly find, you can check out Wilson’s key below to see what you missed (and yes, he already knows No. 1 should be Clash of the Titans [1981], not Jason and the Argonauts [1963]). For more pop culture-inspired art, follow Ape Meets Girl on Facebook and Instagram.

Key for hidden image puzzle.
Ape Meets Girl

[h/t io9]

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Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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presidents
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
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Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

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