Well, it’s complicated. According to Robert Indiana, the “C” in this painting stands for a lot of things. He was commissioned by the City of Columbus in 1981 to create an artwork for the opening of the new city hall building (a handsome one at that, designed by Edward Charles Bassett of Skidmore, Owens & Merrill). In a recent phone call with Indiana, he said that the C has a variety of meanings and that when he hung the painting in Columbus City Hall “it was a very special day.”
That day, Monday November 10th, 1981, he gave a talk describing why the C was so important to his life and described all the things it can stand for:
- Columbus, of course
- Corn, which is important to the Indiana economy
- Carl J. Weinhardt, who Indiana says was a major C in his life (he published this on Robert Indiana)
- Cummins Engine Company, whose headquarters are in the town
- Clark, his last name before he changed it
- Carmen, his mother’s first name (and also the name of his grandfather’s favorite opera)
- Ceres, the goddess of grain
- Courage that the community had to select a native son to create the painting
Also, the colors relate to the state and the building in which it resides.
- The yellow C is the yellow of corn,
- The cantilevers which bisect the painting mimic the cantilevers of the building and look like the bell tower of First Christian Church on its side
- The rose of the background matches the rose of the carpeting in the building
- The tan is similar to the brick of the exterior
- The green is for the greenery of Indiana
- The blue for the flowers in the Indiana grass
- The dates of 1821 and 1981 refer to the year that city was founded and then year the painting was made.
Because the painting does not employ Indiana’s usual primary colors, but rather relates to the colors used in City Hall, Indiana considered this move a concession to his normal practice. Like many of Indiana’s paintings, in the end, it is just as much about a place and a thing as it is about him, a kind of self portrait.
Columbus means a lot to Indiana. He once remarked that he remembers seeing the famous Eliel Saarinen First Christian Church being constructed back in 1940 – 41. This was at a lecture he gave in the city for the opening of an exhibition of his “Decade: Autoportraits,” which were on view in 1975 at the Columbus Visitors Center (the exhibition was loaned from the IMA). Columbus is also the very last Indiana town in which he officially lived, and it is the place where his mother passed away in 1949.