Perhaps best known for his iconic treatment of the word “love,” which has been presented in print, sculpture, on postage stamps and beyond, American artist Robert Indiana’s portfolio is wonderfully vast. Spanning decades, his body of work includes assemblage art, Pop Art, silk screens and oversized sculptures, often exploring the American identity and the power of language. His passion for art is coupled with his affection for wine, using it to produce select screen printings and even creating the new LOVE-inspired treatment for “wine” that’s seen on this issue’s cover.
Is there a connection between art and the creation of a product like wine?
[James Abbott McNeill] Whistler once noted that the price for his work was not based on the time he took making it, but the time it took to have the talent to make it. In my 70-year career, I’ve developed my style and constantly tried to find new ways to use it. I think a great winemaker has the same path: learning, improving, trying, taking chances and constantly getting better while remaining consistent and true to his or her own vision, style and taste.
How did you get interested in wine?
As a boy growing up in the Midwest in midcentury, wine was not an everyday occurrence. When I went to Europe for art school, I was introduced to wine, and I’ve had the good fortune of dining with European royalty and many of the great art collectors who own my works, so I am happy to say I have had some delicious wines over my career. In fact, Denise Rene, who was my dealer for many years, and was Picasso’s dealer as well, served some amazing French Burgundies at my openings.
Art and Wine Through Time
14th century, The marriage at Cana, Barna da Siena; fresco, Italy
13th Century, Chalice, artist unknown; silver, niello and jewels, Germany
Talk about your screens that use wine as a medium. How did that come about?
My publisher Michael McKenzie had spoken with Ed Ruscha, the great “word” artist of the West Coast, and Ed had been experimenting with what he called ‘Stains,’ painting with liquids known to stain fabric. Michael, who is a wine lover and a silk screener, had the idea that he could print with wine, so I said give it a try. And we did. We printed HOPE with a Malbec.
What are your favorite cities for wine and food?
New York, Paris and Monaco all come to mind. As a poor artist living in downtown Manhattan, sitting on a rooftop with my great friend and mentor Ellsworth Kelly, drinking wine, talking about art and watching the sunset over the New York skyline was an incredible part of my art education. Showing in Paris at the Cartier Foundation was a whirlwind of art, wine and food—truly the good life. And my show in Monaco right on the sea was a magical place to enjoy wine and art.
Any fun recollections about wine and the art scene with Warhol and friends?
One funny story: I had been commissioned to make a monumental EAT sculpture for the New York World’s Fair in 1963, a powerful follow up to my Museum of Modern Art commission for LOVE. The ever ambitious Andy [Warhol] called me up and said he wanted to do a movie about me titled EAT. I set the scene for this monumental collaboration between Andy and I by self-catering what I thought was one of the most impressive bacchanalian spreads I’d ever seen, right out of Tom Jones, with wine, cheese, dips, breads, vegetables, shellfish, meat—a true feast. So Andy comes over, looks at the spread, picks out a big mushroom and says, “This is all we need. Eat this really slow.” And EAT is a feature film with me eating a single mushroom! As an aside, my friends and I enjoyed the feast when Andy left. I grew up during the depression, I wasn’t letting that much food and wine go to waste!
What’s a perfect night for you?
I think, as I have gotten older, I’ve realized that for all the hustle of career, art, history and seeing the world, that being among friends talking, laughing and having a drink is as good as life gets.