Born Robert Clark in Indiana, in 1928, he adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. Indiana studied first at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and then at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York. In 1954, he attended Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. Back in America, Indiana settled in the historic Coentes Slip area on the New York waterfront in 1956 and showed his first hard-edged paintings the following year.
From the start he worked with bold, contrasting, sometimes clashing, colours that mirror familiar signs along the highways. A moralist at heart and an admirer of Longfellow, Whitman and Melville, Indiana often wryly prods his viewers. He also feels a strong kinship with such earlier precisionist painters as Charles Demuth and showed his admiration in The Demuth American Dream No.5 (1963, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto). Although painted in Indiana's own idiom, it was clearly inspired by Demuth's well-known I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold (1928, Metropolitan Museum of Art).
The American dream has been a recurring theme in Indiana's work, and he has used it to both celebrate and criticize the national way of life. In his paintings and constructions, he has given new meaning to such basic words as "Eat", "Die" and "Love". Using them in bold block letters in vivid colours, he has enticed his viewers to look at the commonplace from a new perspective. One indication of his success was the appearance of his immensely popular multi-coloured "Love" on a United States postage stamp in 1973.
Robert Indiana has taken the everyday symbols of roadside America and made them into brilliantly coloured geometric pop art. In his work he has been an ironic commentator on the American scene. Both his graphics and his paintings have made cultural statements on life and, during the rebellious 1960s, pointed political statements as well.