Robert Indiana, ‘The Dietary’, 1962, Sotheby's

Property from the Jacqueline Fowler Collection

This work will be included in the forthcoming Robert Indiana Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings and Sculpture being prepared by Simon Salama-Caro.

From the Catalogue
The 1960s bore witness to a visual assault of images - printed, painted, photographed, stenciled and copied, that introduced a whole new set of signs, symbols and imagery into society. Pop artists set out to incorporate this shared visual experience into their work. Although the very essence of Robert Indiana's work quotes the bright colors and urban elements, his literary quality, coded poetry and repeated geometry distinguishes his work from his Pop counterparts. In the early 60s, Indiana chose to concentrate on abstract commercial signs, such as highway markers, rather than those of the mass media. Fascinated by the highway signs he observed from his childhood, roadside commerce became part of his basic vocabulary. For Indiana, the four words, EAT, HUG, ERR, and DIE became his definition of the American Dream. "These words signify a voyage in which intimacy, love, pleasure and danger and death in so many lives, as on the highway are leveled by repetition and reduced to non-experience. Love, intimacy and perhaps all human relationships become HUG, ERR. EAT equals DIE in an equation he spells out in his EAT/DIE 1962 painting." (John McCoubrey in Exh. Cat., Robert Indiana, University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, p. 25). Indiana distinguished himself from his peers by incorporating important political and social issues, and eventually personal traumas, into his work. Transmitting something more intellectual and psychological, his work requires a different mode of looking than does the satiny photographic realism of Rosenquist's canvases or the celebrity-laden graphics of Warhol’s silkscreens.

Indiana’s use of repetition, portraiture, self-reference and figurative language began to take shape in 1962, the year EAT/DIE as well as the present work were executed. In the Pop-art context, the word EAT alludes to the excesses of consumerism. Combined with DIE, this becomes a comment on the fleetingness of life. Indiana’s imperatives in employing these words in his paintings are intensely polysemic and directly biographical to traumatic events of his upbringing. Originally conceived as a diptych with The Eateria, the present work further explores the artist’s EAT/DIE theme. EAT alludes to his mother Carmen and DIE to his father Earl, adding a deeper level of significance to the two words. “The story has an eerie similarity to the oftener-told one that EAT was the last word spoken by Carmen on her deathbed. And recall Indiana’s association of mother and diners to stories of his childhood. Diner equals mother equals Carmen equals red. Black equals father equals death.” (Susan Elizabeth Ryan, Robert Indiana: Figures of Speech, 2000, p. 182) The two panels that make up the diptych, The Eateria & The Dietary, create a representation of Indiana’s parents, labeled with words that were linked to their absence from his life.

The Dietary’s mandala-plus-legend format manifests a glorious display of several of Indiana's iconographic and formalist concerns. Referencing a roulette-like wheel of numbers, Indiana employs iconography and language evoking the illusiveness of coded imagery. In The Dietary, Indiana adopts Jasper Johns' compositional use of a target and employs his signature numbers boldly hued in a vibrant red and yellow color. The target is then framed by the three-letter word – “DIE”, stemming from dietary and conflating a nutritional concept with the word DIE embedded within it. In The Eateria, the repetition of the word EAT invites the recombination of letters to spell teat or teate directly comparing the role of a mother, as a giver of milk, to that of an Eateria. “For Indiana, even in the most formalist, verbally reductive compositions, literal meaning coexists with multiple figurative ones.” (Ibid., p. 188) As he achieved personal success, Indiana may have felt an urgency to express information about his past to suggest the cryptic nature of his works, forming part of his representational paintings on familial themes and the narratives which accompany them. The Dietary’s compositional symmetry is further complicated in a deeper reading of the work as a whole, “the optical and formal achievement of Indiana’s paintings is not simply another aspect or side of his work. In fact, color, shape, composition, and other formal elements are themselves all used, alongside words and numbers, as tropes or figuration – that is, in ways that are not simply literal – to make statements that are not narrative but conflicted, dynamic and allusive.” (Ibid, p. 188) The diptych’s components are derived from tragic autobiographical elements of the artist’s life, both the experience of losing his mother and his father’s abandonment. The present work’s iconography, a cluster of verbally visual characteristics, is then manipulated to become a self-referential symbol of the artist’s own identity. Indiana takes the language and visual imagery of mass media and marketing transforming it into something meaningful and mournful, creating a connection between his individual experience and the anonymous everyman.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: stenciled with the artist's name and date 1962 on the overlap

Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Institute of Contemporary Art; San Antonio, Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; Indianapolis, Herron Museum of Art, Robert Indiana, April - September 1968

The Stable Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Maremont, Winnetka (acquired from the above in 1962)
Private Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner

About Robert Indiana

One of the central figures of the Pop Art movement, Robert Indiana takes his inspiration from commercial signs, claiming: “There are more signs than trees in America. There are more signs than leaves. So I think of myself as a painter of American landscape.” In his paintings, sculptures, and prints, he mimics and re-arranges the words and numbers of a myriad of signs, including the Phillips 66 gas station logo and the “Yield” traffic sign. He is most famous for his “Love” paintings and sculptures, first produced in the 1960s. Creating a block out of the word—with the “L” and the “O” set atop the “V” and the “E”—Indiana has effectively inserted his own sign into the mix. His “LOVE” painting was reproduced on a postage stamp in 1973; his “LOVE” sculptures are installed in public spaces worldwide.

American, b. 1928, New Castle, Indiana, based in New York, New York