Born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928, Indiana adopted the name of his native state as a pseudonymous surname early in his career. Indiana studied first at the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received a degree in 1953 and won a traveling fellowship to Europe to attend Edinburgh University and Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. Back in America, Indiana settled in the historic Coentes Slip area on the New York waterfront in 1956 and showed his first hard-edged paintings the following year. From the start, Indiana worked with bold, contrasting, sometimes clashing, colors that mirror familiar signs along the highways of his typically Midwestern boyhood.
One of the featured artworks, On the Bowery, 1971, is representative for Robert Indiana's work at the time, and is part of a portfolio which includes the work of 10 artists with studios on the Bowery at the time. The other nine artists are Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, Will Insley, Robert Indiana, Les Levine, John Willenbecher, Charles Hinman, Richard Smith, Gerald Laing and John Giorno. The portfolio focuses on the role of the Bowery in New York City, and area where from the 1950's until today, well-known artists created their artwork in lofts; the area, known as "skid row" for decades, became integral in defining the neighborhood as a cultural center.