Robert Indiana has characterized the iconic text and numberfilled canvases he produced in the 1960s as paintings of “the American scene.” Indeed, their fonts and formats are reminiscent of quintessentially American subjects such as midcentury roadside signs, pinball machines, or roulette wheels. The large circle emblazoned on this canvas resembles the front of an old-fashioned steam train and contains stenciled letters with arcane locomotive terminology. Although Indiana’s paintings are visually arresting, the phrases he chooses are often more complex and layered than they initially appear. “Highball,” for example, refers to a signal used to start a train, usually given by lights or a hand gesture. It also refers to a cocktail served in a tall glass historically served on trains. Similarly, the number in the center—“25”—suggests the number of the train but may also serve as a nod to his address at the time: 25 Coenties Slip.

While words have long been Indiana’s chosen medium, he only began to incorporate bold colors and hard edges into his paintings after a romantic relationship with artist Ellsworth Kelly. The two met in 1956 in New York when Kelly purchased a Matisse postcard that Indiana had displayed in the window of a store where he worked at the time. They subsequently became neighbors in a building on the Coenties Slip in the southeastern edge of lower Manhattan where a community of artists, including Agnes Martin and James Rosenquist, lived. Indiana later explained:

My painting life began with Ellsworth. Before Coenties Slip,
I was aesthetically at sea. With Ellsworth, my whole life
perspective changed. All of a sudden I was in the twentieth
century. . . . I never thought about color until I knew Ellsworth.