Stavrosis (the Greek word for crucifixion), is a 19-foot mural pieced together from 44 sheets of paper. Indiana began Stavrosis in January 1958, while he was working for the Rev. James A. Pike at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Among Indiana’s duties was proofreading The History of the Cross by Norman Laliberté and Edward N. West. It was not the first time the artist undertook a religious subject. As a senior (1945–46) at Arsenal Technical High School he created five illustrations on parchment, modeled after medieval illuminations, of the second chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke from the King James Bible, and in 1953, while a student at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, he painted the mural Pilate Washing His Hands.
Indiana’s crucifixion depicts Christ between the two thieves, varying from the traditional depiction of Christ surrounded by saints. The work is also notable for its incorporation of botanical shapes. These forms were influenced by Ellsworth Kelly and inspired by Indiana’s surroundings. The avocado seed shape, inspired by a seed sprouting in his studio, appears in the thief to the right of Christ as well as in works such as Source I (1959) and Source II (1959). The double ginkgo leaf design, seen in the thief to the left of Christ, was inspired by the ginkgo trees in Jeannette Park, which were visible from Indiana’s loft. Indiana first experimented with the ginkgo motif in a 1957 series of paintings on paper, and it appears in a number of later works, including the The Ginkgo Ài series of 2006.
After completing Stavrosis the artist changed his name from Robert Clark to Robert Indiana. In a 1978 interview with Barbaralee Diamonstein Indiana explained “It happened at a psychological moment when, after struggling as a student, struggling for my own artistic identification, not for the main identity itself, things were coming together. I could feel that something was going to be happening shortly, and I didn’t want to have something nice happen with the burden of a name I didn’t like.”