This iconic piece of pop art was inspired by a gay romance

Robert Indiana's 'LOVE', a famous piece of pop art, was inspired by his same-sex relationship with fellow artist Ellsworth Kelly.

A Pop art sculpture on the street spelling out the word love in hug plastic stacked letters



Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE’ is regarded as one of the most famous pieces of pop art in history. Even if you are not familiar with the artist, you will certainly be familiar with the piece itself.

It has been reproduced on key-rings, necklaces, stamps, coffee cups and posters. This is due to the fact that Indiana failed to copyright the image. In fact, a small-scale reproduction is probably hanging in your Mam’s bathroom right now.

Although an instantly recognisable piece of pop art, what many don’t know is that it was inspired by Indiana’s love for another man.

Born in 1928, Indiana became one of the leading figures in the pop art movement, alongside Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns. The four letters – the capitalised ‘L’ and slanted ‘O’ atop capitals ‘V’ and ‘E’ – can be seen in sculpture form in cities like New York, Taipei, Singapore and Philadelphia.

Bradford R Collins explains in his book Pop Art that Indiana’s concept for the design first appeared in a series of love poems written by the artist for Ellsworth Kelly: “In the purely private plane,” he writes, “works in the series are bittersweet love poems expressing Indiana’s carnal love for Ellsworth Kelly.”

Kelly was a fellow artist. The two met in New York in an art supply shop where Indiana worked.

According the Collins, the relationship was plagued by difficulties, and the two fought often. The poems that inspired the ‘LOVE’ letters were composed during this time.

Indiana broke up with Kelly in 1964. According to Artforum, an online art guide, “It was around that time that [the] idea for “LOVE” came about, though it first presented itself, angrily, as ‘FUCK.'” Undoubtedly, Indiana channeled his pain from the break-up into the piece that would later become ‘LOVE’.

Indiana died in 2018 at the age of 89 in Vinalhaven, Maine. His ex-lover, Ellsworth Kelly, died in 2015. The pair leave behind legacies that will live on in their absence.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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