"It's always been a matter of impact, the relationship of color to color and word to shape and word to complete piece–both the literal and visual aspects. I'm most concerned with the force of its impact.” – Robert Indiana
Monumental in scale, instantly recognizable, and emblematic of American Pop Art culture at its core, Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE sculptures are a global phenomenon. The present LOVE (Red, Blue, Green), conceived in 1966 and executed in 1999, standing at 8 feet in height, with its vivid, stencil-style contours and dazzling unmodulated finish, implements an arrangement of three colors in its palette: red, blue and green. While conceived as a serial process, examples of which exist in a variety of materials and sizes, including the likely most-visited version at the corner of New York's 6th Avenue and 55th Street, the present sculpture, with its strong visual impact and pulsating high-keyed palette, stands out.
Both a formal, abstract configuration and a shaped poem, the present work’s dual nature as an imperative utterance and artwork, what Indiana described as a “verbal-visual” act, fires an extraordinary sonic and optical intensity through its bold typographic design. The letters themselves, nestled, rubbing together, insinuate a physicality and tactility that resonate with its language conveyed, “the first two letters stacked on top of the other two, and the letter ‘O’ tilted as if it were being swept off its feet” (J. Finkel, “Robert Indiana, 89, Who Turned ?Love' Into Enduring Art, Is Dead,” in The New York Times, 21 May 2018).
Indiana's LOVE paintings and sculptures had humble beginnings. The artist once explained: “LOVE is purely a skeleton of all that word has meant in all the erotic and religious aspects of the theme, and to bring it down to the actual structure of calligraphy [is to reduce it] to the bare bone” (R. Indiana, quoted in T. Brakeley (ed.), Robert Indiana, New York, 1990, p. 168). The bright and appealing color palette within the present sculpture is, in part, symbolic of the artist's home state of Indiana; the colors combine the fire engine red from the logo of the Phillips 66 gasoline company (where the artist's father had worked during the Great Depression) with the vivid blue of the expansive mid-western skies.
Indiana first celebrated the word “Love” in his 1958 poem “Wherefore the Punctuation of the Heart,” which revealed his admiration of e.e. cummings and Gertrude Stein. Its first appearance in painted form came six years later when the artist traced “Love is God” onto a diamond shaped canvas, inverting a common church motto of his youth. As Indiana explained: “The reason I became so involved in LOVE is that it is so much a part of the peculiar American environment, particularly in my own background, which was Christian Science. God is Love is spelled out in every church” (R. Indiana, quoted in Robert Indiana exh. cat., Muse d'art moderne et d'art contemporain, Nice, 1998, p. 27). Having seen the word "love" in multiple guises, written in Christian Science books, imprinted on the spare walls of his church, the artist spent decades thinking through its possible meanings. In 1966, Indiana transposed this configuration to a block of aluminum, carved out for the Stable Gallery. A request from The Museum of Modern Art to use the artwork for Christmas cards shortly followed. Originally made up in a range of colors from black and white to up to five colors, the museum famously chose the three-color version–red, green, and blue—the same color combination the present example exhibits.