Photo by George Woodman

Photo by George Woodman

 

Lesley Dill is one of the most prominent American artists working at the intersection of language and fine art. Her elegant sculptures, art installations, mixed-media photographs, and evocative performances draw from both her travels abroad and profound interests in spirituality and the world’s faith traditions. Exploring the power of words to cloak and reveal the psyche, Dill invests new meaning in the human form. Intellectually and aesthetical engaging, the core of her work emerges from an essential, visionary awareness of the world.

Fluid metaphors, appropriated from the poetry and writings of Emily Dickinson, Salvador Espriu, Tom Sleigh, Franz Kafka, and Rainer Maria Rilke, connect the diverse media that Dill employs. Paper, wire, horsehair, photography, foil, bronze, and music comprise elements through which the artist conveys the complexities of communication. The often secret, indecipherable, and bold meanings of words emerge not only from hearing their sounds, but by feeling them—language is a visceral, bodily experience. Dill challenges the viewer to confront our linguistic relationships as well as perceptions of language itself. 

From Shimmer, Allegorical Figures, and Sister Gertrude Morgan by Barbara Matilsky

 

"…Lesley Dill has created a body of work that is bracing in its variety, substantial in quantity and powerful in emotive effects, yet fragile, almost ethereal, in its physical aspects.  She has worked in sculpture, photography and performance, using a great range of materials and techniques to insinuate her art into a viewer's conscious and sub conscious mind.  She has borrowed themes from poetry and religion.  She has worked at both billboard scale and at a scale smaller than life-size.  She has proven to be as adept with the graphic flatness of a photographic image as she is with the three-dimensionality of setting and costumes for dance.  She has drawn from the privacy of a recluse's expressions, but she has also spoken, researched and created art in the presence of an audience.  But perhaps the most unusual aspect of Dill's art is its perfect integration and balance of language and picture.  She doesn't illustrate the texts she uses, nor does she caption her pictorial representations with those texts.  Instead, words and images come together in a remarkable and moving harmony of effect."

Excerpt taken from Janet Koplos' essay in the exhibition catalogue: "Lesley Dill: A Ten Year Survey."

 

Visionary power, nuance and heartfelt sincerity are the currency in which Ms. Dill trades, which is no real surprise given her enthusiasm for poetry. Her art evokes an imaginative and emotional space, deftly balancing sure, concrete reference points with whimsical intimations of some other, larger, escapist universe. Ms. Dill’s sculptures are… knotty philosophical puzzles that use sculpture as a launching pad.

Excerpt taken from Benjamin Genocchio’s review for the New York Times

 

New York-based artist Lesley Dill… is largely responsible for one of the most popular trends in sculpture. Whenever you see ghostly objects made from ephemeral materials such as sheer cloth, papier-mache and dangling ribbons and threads, think of Dill. This is especially true if the artist adds passages of writing to the sculpture, not the big, bold, BANG, ZOOM, CRASH lettering of Pop and graffiti, but the faint, tentative script of a shy little girl.

Excerpt from Doug MacCash’s review in the The Time- Picayunne

 

…Ms. Dill has found a convincing visual equivalent for…the delicate precision of word and metaphor, for its deceptively weighty lightness. She has done this partly by turning to weightless ephemeral materials, including cutout paper, fabric printed with photographic images… thread and wire.

Excerpt from Roberta Smith for The New York Times

 

In forging her art from language, Dill joins a tradition that spans Japanese haiga, which has married visual art with haiku for centuries… whose "truisms" projected on buildings read like profound tweets writ monumental. Dill has carved her own place in that lineage.

Language is just a series of symbols imbued with the meaning and power we give them. In reading this, you affirm my arrangement of those symbols. We have a collective agreement. Dill's use of language seeks a different affirmation, a more private pact that doesn't require one necessarily to know a language, only to understand its intent.

Excerpt from Lennie Bennett for The Times

 

This is the stuff of Dill's art: the ability of language and image to take us - and sometimes force us - inward toward enlightenment. At 14, she had a vision that reckoned with life's sorrow and pestilence, and with the sublime.

"My entire visual screen was suddenly filled with a weblike spiral of concentric, black and white images.”…Dill goes on, "And in that moment, I was given to understand the world." That same year, her mother gave her Dickinson's collected poems. "Words leapt off the page . . . causing a stream of urgent images," says Dill.

The artist does not attempt to embody Dickinson's poems, nor those of Pablo Neruda or Salvador Espriu, whose words she also harvests. She often borrows just a single line. She experiences the poems viscerally.

"I felt the words were in my body the words came I felt my life from within," she declares, without breath or punctuation…. Words then manifest into images, or sometimes they follow them. In every piece, the words come, and often repeat like a mantra, aiming directly for the spirit.

[Dill]… has been showing internationally for more than 20 years, and contemporary art's feminist and global agendas course through her work. Her aesthetic coalesced after spending two years in New Delhi in the early 1990s, where the pattern of written Hindi entranced her and activated her own use of language.

The texts are often hard to read - one says "I lose myself to my senses" - but it doesn't matter. Language, for Dill, carries a mythic code whether you can read it or not.

From Cate McQuaid’s review for The Boston Globe

 

ART THAT TAKES literature -- or even, more fundamentally, language itself -- as its inspiration is nothing new. 

Lesley Dill is an artist who does both, but one who manages to do so in a way that is familiar and fresh, showing words to be potent -- and elusive -- things. Her exhibition of recent work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, "Lesley Dill: A Ten Year Survey," addresses words as containers of both meaning and meaninglessness, as tools of communication and as mute scribblings on a page. It is a show that could be said to speak with a voice that modulates between an indecipherable whisper and a clarion call.

Most, but not all, of the works on view allude to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, a writer whose verse is at times simplistic and obvious, at others maddeningly inscrutable. Also drawing on the writing of Rainer Maria Rilke,  Franz Kafka, Salvador Espriu and Pablo Neruda, Dill's art does nothing so simple as illustrate text… Using the written word as both a signifier and a kind of decorative motif, Dill covers everything she does with a seeming jumble of often illegible letters. Forcing the viewer to squint, stoop and search, sometimes in vain, for recognizable sentences, the artist creates messages that are as much a kind of linguistic code -- marks representing ideas -- as they are mute blemishes, abstractions whose resonance has more to do with emotion than rhetoric.

Excerpt from The Washington Post Weekend Review by Michael O'Sullivan

Download Lesley's 2016 Resume (pdf) and 2016 Bibliography (pdf)