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Robert Indiana, Creator of Iconic ‘LOVE’ Series, Has Died

The increasingly reclusive artist, whose stacked LOVE design became one of the 20th century’s most reproduced images, has passed away

LOVE stamp, 1973, designed by Robert Indiana. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

LOVE stamp, 1973, designed by Robert Indiana. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

LOVE stamp, 1973, designed by Robert Indiana. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The American pop artist Robert Indiana, whose 1960s LOVE series achieved iconic status, has died on Vinalhaven Island, Maine, at the age of 89. Indiana is best known for his treatment of the world ‘love’, in which an L and slanted O rest on top of the V and E – it became a world-famous image which, despite trying to move away from, overshadowed his career.

Indiana’s LOVE design was conceived in 1962; it was later used as a 1965 holiday card by MoMA, before being turned into a stamp by the United States Postal Service in 1973. Since then it has been endlessly reproduced as prints, paintings and sculptures, as well as numerous unauthorized editions (the artist failed to copyright the design), appearing on anything from posters and keyrings to coasters and T-shirts. Indiana himself said that it was the 20th century’s ‘most plagiarized work of art’ and even kept his own collection of unauthorized reproductions in his home.

Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana in 1928, the artist studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York in 1954. There he became lovers with Ellsworth Kelly and based himself in Coenties Slip, Lower Manhattan, where he encountered artists including Agnes Martin and Cy Twombly. It was at this time that Indiana began to appropriate stencils used in ship decoration for his own artworks, and made freestanding wooden monuments which he called ‘herms’ (drawing on the classical Greek structures built to ward off evil spirits).

Indiana’s first major career break came when the Museum of Modern Art included this work in its 1961 exhibition ‘Art of Assemblage’, going on to purchase his painting The American Dream #1 (1961) the following year – the same year Indiana had his first solo show, at the Stable Gallery, New York.

The artist had grown reclusive in his later years, leaving for Maine in 1978 after tiring of the New York art scene (his retropective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2013, was pointedly titled ‘Beyond LOVE’). There were concerns after friends had not heard from him recently. One friend, Kathleen Rogers, told AP that she had asked the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to look into Indiana six to eight weeks ago, after she had not heard from him.

One day before his death, a licensing company which had worked with Indiana, filed a lawsuit against an art dealer and Indiana’s caretaker claiming they had isolated him and were creating unauthorized reproductions of his artworks. The Morgan Art Foundation alleged that American Image Art had exploited a ‘bedridden and infirm’ artist while selling forgeries. American Image Art’s founder has rejected the claims.

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