Tilt from The American Dream
serigraph, 1997, 16.63 x 13 in
You might say that Pop artist Robert Indiana (b. 1928) lived the American Dream. Throughout the artist’s early childhood in Indiana, his family lived in poverty. They moved 21 times before Indiana turned 17, and his mother worked as a waitress in greasy spoon diners to make ends meet. Flash forward to the late 1950’s, and Indiana was a 20-something living in New York City and cavorting with the likes of Andy Warhol and Wynn Chamberlain. His hard-edged oil compositions bearing bright colors, provocative phrases and culturally significant numbers had caught the eye of the contemporary art world. In 1965, Indiana designed a Christmas card for MoMA featuring scarlet, stacked letters that spelled out “LOVE.” It would become his most iconic image, landing on a USPS postage stamp in 1973.
A few years before he created the LOVE image, Indiana looked back on his path to success with the first painting in his American Dream series. The same composition appears in Indiana’s 1997 serigraph Tilt from The American Dream, which is new to the Zane Bennett Contemporary collection. In the image, highly personal symbolism mingles with universal markers of Americanism.
The circles and stars that appear throughout the piece riff on advertising aesthetics of the period. In the black and yellow circle at top left, the numbers reference highways he roamed as a young man (including Route 66). The phrases “TAKE ALL” and “THE AMERICAN DREAM” represent an industrious but viciously competitive national ethos. In the bottom left circle, the word “TILT” evokes the pinball machines that Indiana encountered in the diners where his mother worked, and later in dive bars that he frequented. When paired with the other words in the tableau, “TILT” throws the egalitarian premise of The American Dream into question. This was the first of nine images in the American Dream series, created between 1961 and 2001. Tilt from the American Dream represents of Indiana’s epic, career-spanning exploration of the promises and pitfalls of American idealism.
Click here to learn more about Indiana’s print.