Clare Longley on love, actually more complicated


In 1966, American pop artist Robert Indiana created Love, an iconic image in which the word “love” appears in red letters on a blue and green background. Since then, it’s been reproduced ad nauseam in painting, print and sculpture, and even Indiana confessed his ambivalence on its commercial success: “It was a marvellous idea, but it was also a terrible mistake”. Enter Melbourne-based artist Clare Longley and her experimental painting practice, which repositions such romanticised imagery from a queer perspective.

Longley’s appropriation of Indiana’s Love, showing at ReadingRoom, involves a large-scale painting of the word “errs”, meaning to be mistaken or incorrect. By recreating Indiana’s work with the different word, Longley is suggesting an ‘error’; the error being how commercialisation obscured Indiana’s intention to show the fragility of love.

Indiana’s Love has a rich history of appropriation, notably by General Idea in 1987 and Juan Davila in 1988, and Longley’s particular appropriation looks at conventional depictions of love. “It’s a response to what feels like such a formal proclamation of what love looks like. Indiana’s work has become a form of merchandise and has influenced how love is represented in popular culture,” says Longley, who’s reclaiming the intimacy of the word.

Known for paintings interrogating images of cherubs, flowers and gardens, Longley will also exhibit works of abstract symbolism, with the spiral pattern a significant motif. This references the curlicue designs in Art Nouveau, environmental cycles, and the double helix. In one painting, there are two intertwined spiral staircases referencing emotional tension. As Longley explains, “Love is often spoken about being uplifting or an ascension and something heavenly, but people also use the expression ‘falling in love’. The stairs are a way of exploring a space that’s a threshold where you’re moving from one spot to another and not a place where you pause or stay still.”

Swollen atoms of a bond
Clare Longley
31 March—22 April

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Autumn Royal