robert indiana
robert indiana

15 Things You Should Know About Robert Indiana's LOVE

robert indiana
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. 

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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. 

Getty Images

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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Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

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John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz
Murdered

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.

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