In the Studio with Michael McKenzie


Two rough-hewn stone pillars and a bright red peace sign greet visitors at the entrance of Michael McKenzie’s Katonah compound, a woodland property that houses several bygone buildings and barns he has been restoring since purchasing the place in 2008. The juxtaposition of classic and contemporary, antique and au courant, illustrates the structures where McKenzie lives, works, and brings contemporary art visions to life.

“I’m the average guy gone wild,” says McKenzie in his silkscreen studio, where multicolored paint splatters carpet the wood floor. And how. His American Image Atelier is a production facility that has churned out editions for such artists as Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Paschke, Frank Stella, Donald Sultan, and Tom Wesselmann, among others. The workspace, like a museum exhibition unto itself, spills over with work by Warhol, Indiana, Red Grooms, and Keith Haring.

McKenzie admits that he didn’t set out to produce masterworks of contemporary art. As a young man, he studied creative writing in the 70s under the tutelage of several Pulitzer Prize winners. He took up journalism under the mentorship of Truman Capote and interviewed and photographed a range of high-profile personalities, including Tennessee Williams, Rudolf Nureyev, Lou Reed, Deborah Harry, Mohammed Ali, Michael Jordan, John Belushi, and Joan Rivers. While still in school, he wrote his first book, on the television show “Saturday Night Live.” He followed that up with books on Madonna (Lucky Star) and Billy Joel (Billy Joel: Piano Man). His books have collectively sold more than one million copies.

The Manhattan native got into photography on a bet. Once he put a portfolio together, McKenzie garnered assignments from The Village Voice and SoHo News. Eventually, he photographed for Time, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and countless album covers. He started taking his photos to art galleries and showing them on consignment. People started buying.

“It wasn’t the worst possible life,” he says. “Anyone I wanted to meet, I met. … I was 22, and everyone wanted to know, who is this maniac?”

Everything changed, though, the day Andy Warhol came to see him in his studio.

“I had worked with Warhol for many moons,” says McKenzie. “I got to be friends—in so far as anyone could be—with Andy and most of his staff.”

McKenzie had been experimenting with oil painting on top of black and white photography. Warhol, looking around his studio, “kept ragging on my process,” says McKenzie. “I was trying to figure out how to make photography bigger and more painterly.” Warhol suggested silkscreening and acrylics.

The next day, McKenzie called everyone he knew to get screens and inks, and stayed up all night printing on anything and everything. “I’ve been doing it ever since,” he says. “And as I started getting better at it, artists started asking me to print their work.”

Silkscreening began to eat up more and more space of his Manhattan studio, leading him, eventually, to his current location in Katonah.

Today, as always, he’s working on several projects at once: Robert Indiana HOPE sculptures in glass with Lalique; several art books, including Andy Warhol and His Friends; a “Word Art” show opening at the The Baker Museum in Naples, Florida, in February, and then traveling the US and Europe. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for 30 years,” he says.

He is also putting the finishing touches on a restored barn residence for visiting artists, complete with a private gallery space. “Bedford’s version of a Tribeca penthouse,” he says.


With Campbell’s Soup-can, red shingles and decorative sliding doors, the building combines antique elements with an open, window-filled, white-walled gallery and living space. In all his renovations, he has kept the words of his friend, the late Philip Johnson, in mind: “Make sure all the buildings talk to each other with light,” McKenzie quoted Johnson as advising him.

The first resident scheduled is contemporary artist Nancy Dwyer. “We think she is more important than the status she has, and we think we can help her achieve,” says McKenzie. “My main goal is to have my own art and writing get out, but on the other hand, to show who’s who in the game.”

Most of all, he’s having fun. “I like what I do,” he says. “I’ve worked with a lot of geniuses. Hopefully some of it has sunk in.”

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Robert Indiana taps Bob Dylan for inspiration



The parallels between Robert Indiana and Bob Dylan aren’t obvious, but they’re there.

Both grew up in the Midwest and came to New York to find their creative voice. Both were inspired by the possibility of romance of the road in post-World War II America, changed their names and became pop icons in the 1960s. Both also remain active in their advancing years, and this summer both artists will have a presence at Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston.

Indiana, 87, lives on Vinalhaven Island off the Maine coast. These dozen new silkscreen prints are among 70 works in “Robert Indiana: Now and Then.” Bates will be the first museum to show Indiana’s Dylan series.

A pop artist, Indiana is best known for his “LOVE” image, spelled with a tilted letter “O.” It’s among the most recognizable images in American art history. He draws inspiration from commercial logos, road signs and other common visual vernacular.

For the Dylan series, Indiana employs his familiar graphic approach, creating colorful, symmetrical shapes and decorating them with lyrics from the song. Indiana began the series about two years ago.

Longtime Indiana friend and collaborator Michael McKenzie curated the exhibition. “I’d have to say that no musical artist has influenced me as much as Dylan, and probably no poet has influenced me as much as Dylan,” Indiana told McKenzie.

Dylan, who turned 75 this week, performs in Portland on July 16. There’s no word yet whether he plans to see the exhibition.


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LEWISTON — The likeness is striking, uncanny even. It’s Robert Indiana as a young man, with a black cap pulled down over his brow, his eyes conveying a youthful hope. He’s about 30 years old in this photo, taken in 1959.

The image, cropped from a larger black-and-white photo of Indiana with his friend Ellsworth Kelly, is part of the wall-size welcome panel that visitors see as they walk into the Bates College Museum of Art for the newly opened exhibition, “Robert Indiana: Now and Then.”

If you didn’t know better, you’d swear the picture is a young Bob Dylan, whose lyrics Indiana incorporated into works for this show.

Dylan who arrived in New York as a teenager not long after the photo of Indiana was taken. When Columbia Records released Dylan’s first record in 1962, the record label chose a photo of Dylan staring out from underneath a black cap, his collar pulled tight and his youthful eyes capturing an innocence that soon was lost forever. He looks scared.

Two young poets in New York, finding their way.

The artists – Indiana turns 88 in September; and Dylan turned 75 in May – are linked beyond the coincidence of their shared time and place, or their Bohemian sense of fashion. Both are Midwesterners who left home for New York, to chase a dream, to see what the world looked like beyond their familiar farmlands and iron ranges. Both changed their names, not to escape their heritage but to explore the freedom of a new identity that was part of the contract of the American dream.

Both made art, and continue to make art, that is rooted in personal experience and universal in its aesthetic embrace of the promise of a roadside diner, the thrill of a pinball machine and the idea that a railroad line can take you someplace far away. Their worlds, expressed in complex songs and in simple graphic images, were centered on a restlessness that had less to do with youth and more to do with a knowing that there was something more, something better, something different.

Robert Indiana’s “LOVE,” created in 1966, is one of the most recognized images in American art, expressing the hope and desire – the plea – of a generation to choose peace over war. Dylan’s song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” released in 1965 as the lead track of his “Highway 61 Revisited” album, remade Dylan from charming folk singer into cynical rock star with edge and attitude and snarl.

“How does it feel?” Dylan demanded, pulling back the cloak of innocence. It’s one of the great rock songs, and remains the keynote in a turbulent time in the life of America’s greatest rock star.

Fittingly perhaps, after all these years of walking in the same circles and working from the same vernacular, Robert Indiana and Bob Dylan – born Robert Clark in Newcastle, Indiana, and Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota – share the same song and canvas.

Indiana incorporated Dylan’s words from “Like a Rolling Stone” into a series of 12 new paintings that are mostly based on Indiana’s “The American Dream” series from the early 1960s.

The Dylan-themed work is part of the larger Bates exhibition, on view through Oct. 8. Indiana finished the last piece of the Dylan series six weeks before the exhibition opened in June. This is the first time they’ve been shown publicly.

In what can only be attributed to coincidence, Dylan will be in Portland for a concert on Saturday. Bates Museum director Dan Mills has had no contact with Dylan or his representatives, but said he would happily accommodate the singer if he wants a private tour.

The Dylan series, titled “Like a Rolling Stone,” combines the saturated flat colors that Indiana is known for with text directly from Dylan’s song, presented in billboard-like diamonds, circles, squares and rectangles. Each painting, with a few lines of lyrics arranged around a shape, references one or more early works from Indiana’s own career.

Indiana is best known as a sculptor and printmaker. These are paintings that incorporate print processes, combining acrylic and screenprint on stretched canvas.


Indiana, who lives on Vinalhaven island and declined an interview for this story, began thinking about Dylan again a few years ago, when Michael McKenzie, a friend and the curator for this show, asked him about influential writers. Indiana has always used words, numbers and phrases in his work, and McKenzie wanted to know who influenced him. If he could collaborate with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Indiana named a few obscure writers, then settled on Dylan.

McKenzie said Indiana told his early works were made while listening to Dylan. “He was who I had on in the studio, on the radio, on the stereo. His songs spoke to me. His words spoke to me,” McKenzie recalled him saying.

On a subsequent trip to Vinalhaven, McKenzie brought Indiana a book of Dylan lyrics and asked him to pick out a few songs that were meaningful. Nearly right away, Indiana chose “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Indiana knows how it feels to be without a home, like a rolling stone. He was adopted as an infant, and spent the first 17 years of his life in a dozen homes. It was as if Dylan was singing to him, he told McKenzie.

With Indiana’s blessing, McKenzie went through all of Indiana’s work from the early- to mid-’60s to see if he could identify anything that suggested Dylan’s influence. The original idea was to set Dylan’s lyrics to existing work from throughout Indiana’s career and perhaps to tell a narrative using words and images from both artists.

Instead, Indiana appropriated Dylan’s song lyrics and set them around themes and motifs that first surfaced in Indiana’s “The American Dream” series from the early 1960s. The series riffed on Route 66 and America’s jukebox culture. It was colorful and graphic, and designed around bold letters, slogans and imagery.

Indiana always considered himself an “American painter of signs,” and “The American Dream” series embodied that ideal, and was a precursor for his illuminated “EAT” sculpture at the World’s Fair in Queens, New York, in 1964 – now on view on the roof of the Farnsworth in Rockland – and “LOVE” in 1966. “LOVE” become universally accepted as the image of a generation, and was made into a U.S. postage stamp.

On the strength of “LOVE,” Indiana survives as what McKenzie calls “the crown prince of pop in the living genre.”

“LOVE,” he says, transcends pop.

“You could argue that ‘LOVE’ was the most important art icon of the 20th century,” he said, “and you’d have a really good argument.”


Just as Indiana was ascending to taste-maker status, Dylan was reinventing rock ‘n’ roll. From March 1965 to May 1966 – 14 months – he released three records that hinted at the possibility of rock ‘n’ roll and pop music as a literary device, capable of communicating big and important ideas within the context of song and dance, rhythm and blues.

“Like a Rolling Stone” was at the middle of it all, more short story than rock song, and at the time the longest single to hit American airwaves, at more than 6 minutes. In the dash of Al Kooper’s sweeping organ and Dylan’s tempestuous vocal fury, Dylan changed pop culture by blowing it up.

“It’s the definitive Bob Dylan song that we all have in our head, right?” McKenzie said. “Best choice ever? It’s hard to argue. ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is a pretty important work.”

However briefly, Dylan and Indiana shared a zenith. Their worlds didn’t directly intersect, but both made furious work on the streets of New York that has lasted a half-century.

We know Indiana listened to Dylan. We can assume Dylan saw Indiana’s art – Dylan bought stamps, read the newspapers and magazines. Indiana was showing in the galleries, and in 1961 the Museum of Modern Art acquired a piece from “The American Dream” series.

Dylan’s appetite for the visual arts was fueled by his early years in New York, and his trips to museums gave him ideas about time and space, the destructive nature of man and, above all, the ideal of love.

He surely must have known who Indiana was and, if so, appreciated their parallel lives and common past. Certainly, he appreciated Indiana’s voice, his style and his message.

Their shared moment ended in 1966. Amid the sound and fury of a self-destructive life, Dylan crashed his motorcycle and withdrew to upstate New York with his young family to recuperate, regroup and disconnect.

Indiana’s withdrawal came a decade later. As the biography on his website says, “In 1978, Indiana chose to remove himself from the New York art world. He settled on the remote island of Vinalhaven in Maine, moving into the Star of Hope, a Victorian building that had previously served as an Odd Fellows Lodge.”

He’s been there since.

Both artists remain active, though Dylan’s career has been more prolific.

In recent years, Dylan has found more time for his own art beyond his music. He’s always painted and sketched and dabbled in filmmaking and long-form writing. But the visual arts have stayed with him more soulfully, alongside his music. He has exhibited his oil paintings to modest critical acclaim, and in 2013 he exhibited a collection of welded gates in a London gallery. He called the exhibition “Mood Swings.”

“Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow,” Dylan wrote in the gallery brochure. “They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.”

Dylan and Indiana have never met. McKenzie tried to arrange a meeting once, backstage at a Dylan show. But Indiana wanted McKenzie to bring Dylan to Vinalhaven, which is something, McKenzie said, “I don’t have the ability to do.”

Fittingly, somehow, Dylan is touring these days on the strength of two recent records of American standards made famous by Frank Sinatra, songs like “Stay With Me” and “All the Way.”

Love songs – beautiful, aching, ever-lasting songs about love.


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Robert Indiana: Now and Then





Robert Indiana: Now and Then

Now and Then follows the career of one of America’s most celebrated living artists associated with Pop Art, Robert Indiana. Featured are over 50 works, including his icons, EATLOVE, and HOPETHE ALPHABET, and his latest series, the extraordinary Like a Rolling Stone, in which he creates dynamic compositions incorporating the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song. This extensive exhibition presents works showcasing Indiana’s unique method of working on paper, canvas, print and in three dimensions with the same image. Indiana’s LOVE, conceived originally as a postcard for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is one of the most recognizable works in American Art and was rendered as sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints, globally exhibited, and also as a U.S. Postage stamp. Opens December 2016


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ROBERT INDIANA: NOW AND THEN features over 70 works, including his icons EAT, LOVE, HOPE, THE ALPHABET, and the debut of his latest series, the extraordinary LIKE A ROLLING STONE. The latter merges the work of two of the most iconic American pop culture figures of the 1960s, Bob Dylan and Robert Indiana.

This extensive exhibition presents works showcasing Indiana’s unique method of working on paper, canvas, print, and in three dimensions with the same image. One of America’s most celebrated living artists associated with Pop Art, Indiana is a long-time resident of Maine.

Indiana draws subject matter from the visual vernacular of commercial logos, highway road signs, factory die-cut stencils while incorporating the cultural heritage of American Modernists such as Charles Demuth and Marsden Hartley. Indiana’s LOVE, conceived originally as a postcard for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is one of the most recognizable works in American Art and was rendered as sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints, globally exhibited, and also as a U.S. Postage stamp.

Born 1928 in Newcastle, Indiana, Robert Indiana (né Robert Clark) lives and works in Vinalhaven, Maine. He graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago where fellow students included Pop artists Claes Oldenberg and Red Grooms, and Photorealist, Richard Estes­­­. In 1953, he received a scholarship to Maine’s Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. In 1954, he attended the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College of Art. In 1956, he moved to New York City and became one of the six founding fathers of Pop Art. Indiana moved to Vinalhaven, Maine in 1970. Indiana’s work is in over 1000 collections in 100 countries including the Bates College Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and The Louvre.

The exhibition was organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA in association with American Image, Katonah, NY and Rosenbaum Fine Arts, Boca Raton, FL.

This exhibition is funded in part by generous gifts from Ingrid and John Amols ’72, in memory of Philip M. Isaacson ’47, and from Jane Costello Wellehan ’60.


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EAT and ART at the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC


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Happy Birthday, Robert Indiana!


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More on International Hope Day 2014

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Center of HOPE Day exhibit

VINALHAVEN, Maine — Maine-based pop artist Robert Indiana plans to participate in a celebration of his art in countries across the world called International HOPE Day.

The artist is best known for his “LOVE” image, in which the L and a leaning O sit atop the V and the E. His ‘HOPE’ image follows a similar theme. It will be a part of installations and events in Munich, Caracas, Miami, New York City and Vinalhaven, Maine, on Sept. 13, his 86th birthday.

Indiana will make a public appearance outside his residence and studio on Vinalhaven Island on that day. There will be a large ‘HOPE’ sculpture installed for the event.


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First Annual “International Hope Day” Set to Kick Off in Maine

International Hope Day on facebook

The First annual “International HOPE Day,” the brainchild of New York art publisher Michael McKenzie, is scheduled to take place with a series of events and unveilings in New York, Munich, Miami and Maine on Saturday, September 13th. Featuring artist Robert Indiana’s HOPE, the first annual event will take place on the artist’s 86th birthday, which he will celebrate on the island of Vinalhaven in Maine. The artist is scheduled to make a public appearance from noon – 1:00 p.m. outside Star of Hope, his longtime residence and studio on Main Street, where he will sign commemorative posters and prints featuring the HOPE image, and pose for photo opportunities alongside a large HOPE sculpture that was installed for the event.

In coming up with the concept for “International HOPE Day,” McKenzie was acting upon an announcement by Indiana in 2011 stating that his goal was “to cover the earth with HOPE and bring hope to every country in the world.” Following the template of “Earth Day International,” McKenzie envisions an event that gains momentum with each passing year and is non-denominational, crossing all faiths and creeds, ages and beliefs, and serves as one day of inspiration to bring hope in its essence to every corner and concern of the globe, just as Webster defined it, Hope is the desire for something positive to happen and the belief that it will.


In addition to the events in Maine, a monumental 10’ high, two-ton metal HOPE sculpture in Indiana’s signature colors of red and blue will be installed on the corner of 53rd and Broadway in New York City. The installation will take place in advance of HOPE day, on Thursday, August 11th, with a team of HOPEFULs on hand to greet media from noon to 4:00 p.m. Similar installations and events are planned for Munich, Caracas and Miami and will be featured All profits from the sales of HOPE memorabilia will be distributed to a variety of charities, including Vinalhaven Medical Facility and Partners In Education (PIE). As HOPE day grows, additional charities and sponsors will be named, all of which will eventually tie into the permanent creation of The Robert Indiana Museum at the Star of Hope.

Indiana, who is best known for his iconic LOVE image from the 1960s, felt the need in the new millennium which brought so many changes, from the September 11, 2001 WTC attack to the stock market crash and war, to create and introduce the image of HOPE in 2008. The artist has referred to HOPE as “the long-awaited sibling of LOVE.” “Robert Indiana has been on the forefront of societal change since the sixties,” said McKenzie, “when spreading the message of LOVE was the antidote to growing pains in the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights and Peace movements. Forty years hence, Indiana at once acknowledges progresses made, while still perceiving the struggles of many in this time of war and economic hardship. ‘International HOPE Day’ is a call to looking forward and striving for a better For further information and interviews with Mr. Indiana and Mr. McKenzie, contact Kathleen Rogers, KLR Communications Inc. (207) 667-0733, Ext. 11 or email



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