The Sign Painter as Artist

by mitchellgallery


Robert Indiana, “A Complete Unknown,” from the Like a Rolling Stone series, 2016. Silkscreen on canvas. Courtesy of American Image Art.

“Some artists are subjective, some objective”; which is a nice sentiment that some man with more time and understanding would unpack for meaning. But I write blogs (so have little time) and never felt that I understood too much of anything; rather, when I speak, I feel that I am only trying not to mess up too much So if I take the phrases objective artist and subjective artist to use as I please, and thereby risk obscuring their original use for the benefit of my view, I would ask you to understand what I meant above and ask forgiveness.

Robert Indiana said of himself that he fits into the traditional american art of sign painting. Yet if we group his work with the signs that we see in the everyday, we lose an aspect of Indiana. These pieces certainly carry the aesthetic values of design—well spaced lines and a pleasing look, and with a focus on typeface. However, Indiana has taken these techniques and recreated the normal effects of signs through the use of his own artistic sentiments.

Take a sign that we would see regularly. It is used to indicate—cigars or alcohol or food. In the print A Complete Unknown we can recognize the form being similar to signs: the attractive, modern typeface; the contrasting black and yellow which attracts the eye; and the use of negative space, which is broken by the design in the center, and the words “LIKE A ROLLING STONE” across the bottom. But, again, the effect is different.

I want to trace this back to the words, colors, and the center-shapes used. But, for space, will only really address the words and numbers. The words from the Bob Dylan song are critical of a certain kind of person. They are angry, and it seems Indiana wants us to associate that with the US, and Satan. It isn’t exactly a commentary, for there are no real ideas that are fully formed here. But it is a kind of view of the country: Indiana’s view. In this way Indiana should be considered as a kind of subjective artist. For he does not sit comfortably in the traditional form of sign painting. He rather uses the techniques that have been cultivated by that art in order to express his view.

—Will Harrington, SJC Student, A20

This exhibition is generously supported by Annapolis Subaru.

Additional support provided by Mark Baganz and Laura Salladin, Deborah Bowerman Coons and Jana Bowerman Sample, Anna E. Greenberg,Tara Balfe Clifford/ Cliftara Bed ’n Breakfast, and an Anonymous Donor.

The Mitchell Gallery relies on community commitment, through generous individual donors and corporate memberships, to support its diverse exhibitions and programs.

We thank the following for their continuous funding and support: Anne Arundel County, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, Chesapeake Medical Imaging, City of Annapolis, Helena Foundation, Maryland State Arts Council, Estate of Elizabeth Myers Mitchell, Mitchell Gallery Board of Advisors, Members of the Mitchell Gallery, Mrs. Ruth Mitchell, John and Hilda Moore Fund, National Endowment for the Arts, Lillian Vanous Nutt Mitchell Gallery Endowment, and the Clare Eddy and Eugene V. Thaw Fine Arts Fund.

Gifts in kind: Annapolis Home, Art Things, Inc., Kathleen McSherry, Up.St.Art Annapolis, and What’s Up? Media.