The Language That He Used

Can Robert Indiana, a mainstay of the 1960’s Pop Art movement, give new life to Bob Dylan’s lyrics some 50 years later?

Robert Indiana wowed the Pop Art world in 1966 when he stacked an L and a tilted O atop a V and an E. And over the past 50 years, he has returned time and again to the idea of manipulating the written word as an element of visual art.

Robert Indiana

Once Upon a Time (2016), silkscreen in colors on triple-primed canvas by Robert Indiana. Courtesy Bates College Museum of Art.

Now, the 87-year-old Vinalhaven resident has a new series called Like a Rolling Stone, a dozen silkscreen prints with lyrics from Bob Dylan’s eponymous 1965 song. Indiana got the idea when he saw fellow Pop artist Ed Ruscha’s work with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, in which Ruscha added photographs of winding lanes, gas stations, and sandwich plates to Kerouac’s text. Indiana, in turn, searched for a wordsmith whose work would dovetail with his own — and he landed on Dylan.

Exhibit curator and close Indiana friend Michael McKenzie says that when Indiana reviewed his past projects, he found pieces that evoked a feeling — perhaps a hint of world-weary cynicism — that showed up in Dylan’s song too.

It took two years for Indiana to marry the lyrics and images. Printed in fonts and colors that mimic Indiana’s originals, the language adds another layer of interest to the starkly geometric arrangements.

McKenzie describes the result as “art and poetry congealing,” and Indiana’s images do seem to share a certain intangible character with Dylan’s words. So, is Indiana summarizing Dylan’s lyrics, using them to decorate his own images, or creating new insights into both artists’ works? McKenzie says that Indiana has the answer — but you might just want to check out the series and decide for yourself. — Kyra Spence


Like a Rolling Stone debuts at the Bates College Museum of Art, accompanied by more than 70 other works, in the exhibition Robert Indiana: Now and Then. Now through October 8.

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