Lesley Dill Art Exhibition
Friday, April 8 | 6:00-8:00PM
As part of its participation in the National
Endowment for the Arts’ “Big Read” program, Birmingham-Southern College
will host events this spring focused on Emily
Dickinson’s poetry, including a lecture and
exhibition by New York-based artist Lesley Dill,
who incorporates Dickinson’s text into her creations.
Durbin Gallery of the Doris Wainwright Kennedy
Art Center and Azar Art Studios
310 18th Street North, Suite 303
Birmingham, AL 35203
Gallery Hours 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. | Monday - Friday
Thursday, April 7th 12:30PM-3:30PM
Kennedy Art Center Room 7
Thursday, April 7th 4:00PM-5:00PM
"Join us for a roundtable discussion in conjunction with our Winter 2016 Main Gallery Exhibition "Revealed Terrain: The Semantics of Landscape." Moderated by Guest Curators Cynthia Nourse Thompson and David Charles Chioffi. With Macy Chadwick, Artist; Lesley Dill, Artist; and Sue Gosin, Co-Founder, Dieu Donné.
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
A landscape’s formation within the disciplines of the fine and applied arts is laden with both discernable and veiled artifacts to be unearthed. These foundations are interwoven as interpretative symbols, phonetics, or armatures to synthesize a visual voice and an independent sense of place. In Revealed Terrain: The Semantics of Landscape, a visual etymology of environments amid diverse works on paper is constructed. Through acknowledged and unaccustomed definitions within multiple layers and mediums, these formats reassert that the semantics of artistic landscapes are neither concrete nor static.
More at: http://bit.ly/1OunXJX
ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS
Co-curator Cynthia Nourse Thompson is Director of the MFA programs in Studio Art and Book Arts/ Printmaking at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she is also an Associate Professor. She was recently Curator and Director of exhibitions at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville; previously, she was a professor at Memphis College of Art (MCA) and served as chair of the Division of Fine Arts during her final year. For more than 12 years, she ran the book arts, letterpress and papermaking areas at MCA, and for seven of those years, she served as curator and director of visiting artist lectures.
Co-curator David Charles Chioffi is an Associate Professor of Graphic Design, The J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Previously, he was an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Design, and Chair of the Division of Design Arts at Memphis College (MCA). His traditional and experimental work emphasizes the sensory triality of alphabetic matrices and forms, as well as how phonetic structures and visual architecture formulate and synthesize content. In addition to his private design practice, prior posts have included Executive Vice-President of Design and Communications at The Hospice Institute for Education, Training and Research, Inc.; and Associate Director of Packing Design and Visual Identities, Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation in New York City.
Macy Chadwick received an MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia and assisted book artist Julie Chen at Flying Fish Press for three years. She currently resides in Oakland, California, where she creates books and limited edition prints in her letterpress studio. Macy is on the faculty at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, and her work is in prominent collections in the U.S. and abroad, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, Yale University Special Collections, and the Jack Ginsberg Collection in South Africa.
New York-based artist Lesley Dill explores text relationships between sculpture, photography and performance, using a variety of media and techniques to explore themes of language, the body, and transformational experience. She received her master of arts in teaching from Smith College in 1974 and her master of fine arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1980. Her work has been widely exhibited can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others.
Susan Gosin received her MFA in 1976 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, after studying with Walter Hamady in the book arts and Warrington Colescott in intaglio. She then co-founded Dieu Donné Press and Paperworks in New York City. For more than thirty-five years, she has collaborated with artists and writers as designer and publisher of two and three-dimensional art as well as limited editions of artist books. Her artist books have been exhibited and collected by such institutions as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. and The American Cultural Center, Tel Aviv, Israel. She has been awarded grants from The National Endowment for the Arts and The Tiffany Foundation and in 2006 received the Printmaker Emeritus Award from the Southern Graphics Council."
2016 Artist in Residence: Lesley Dill
Gallery Opening: Thursday, February 11, 5-7 PM
In Residence: March 14-17
Fullerton College is honored to present Lesley Dill as our 2016 Artist in Residence. Lesley Dill works in sculpture, photography, and performance using a variety of media and techniques to explore themes of language, the body, and transformational experience.
Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, among many others. The Fullerton College Art Gallery will be exhibiting a selection of her work from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. Dill lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. The exhibition will be accompanied by an artist lecture and a weeklong series of demonstrations as part of the distinguished Fullerton College Artist in Residence program.
2016 Artist in Residence
Lesley Dill: The Poetic Voice, Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation
Fullerton College Art Gallery
1000 Building, Room 1004
321 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, CA 92832
Thursday, February 11 - Monday, April 4
Opening Reception: Thursday, February 11 from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Schedule of Events
Artist-in-Residence Lecture in the Wilshire Auditorium:
Monday, March 14 at 1 p.m., featuring an excerpt from her opera
Artist Demonstrations in the Gallery:
March 15-17, Tuesday - Thursday: 8:30-11:00 a.m. & 12:00-3:30 p.m.
Monday - Thursday, 10 am - 12 pm & 2 - 4 pm
Evening Hours: February 17, 23, 29 & March 31, 6 - 8pm
Admission: All events are free and open to the public.
For Additional Information:
About Fullerton College's Artist in Residence Program:
The Artist in Residence program is a continuing project coordinated by the Fullerton College Art Department and was originally established in 1972 when Wayne Theibaud participated. Through this program, world-renowned artists are invited to the Fullerton College campus to exhibit their work and interact with students while providing insight into their artistic careers. All listed events are free and open to the public.
Available for $2.00 per day in the tiered parking structure on the southwest corner of Lemon St. and Chapman Ave.
Fullerton College Art Deparment
315 Gallery is pleased to present large scale photographs, an exhibition of photographs by Lesley Dill. Dill's work examines the relationship between language and the human body. Drawing on inspiration from poetry and literature, she uses text as a subject to explore the ways in which societies communicate through spoken word and physical manifestation of their bodies.
For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lesley Dill: Performance As Art at the McNay Art Museum
June 10 through September 6, 2015
Interweaving aspects of contemporary art and theatre, this exhibition focuses on Lesley Dill's emotionally evocative work in performance and brings together a number of costumes, ephemera, photographs, and video projections from more than two decades. An illustrated publication accompanies the exhibition.
Arts and Letters: Lesley Dill in Conversation
By Lee Ann Norman
March 2015, Brooklyn, NY: Lesley Dill works in sculpture, photography, and performance, using a range of media and methods to explore themes of language, the body, and what it means to be transformed by an experience. She recently participated in Beautiful Beast at the New York Academy of Art, an exhibition that explored the intersection of beauty and abjection through sculpture, often depicting our humanity through distortion. I am always interested in work that defies disciplinary boundaries and convention, and Dill's keen fondness for words drove my curiosity about her work even more. I met with the artist at her home and studio in downtown Brooklyn recently where we discussed representations of the feminine and masculine in culture, mentorship in the art world, faith, and of course words.
Lesley Dill: Over the years I’ve made dress forms in various materials—paper, fabric, metal. I don’t think of the dress image as sentimental or pretty. It is a shape. I love Martin Puryear’s dedication to form. In my dress sculptures, I compress the bodice into fragility and open the skirt wide. The delicacy of the top invites intimacy, but defies familiarity because the expansion of the edge creates a boundary.
What changed my thoughts about gender presentation was when [my husband] Ed got a job in New Delhi in 1990, and I went with him. In New York we sculptors wore jeans, tight black t-shirts and work boots. In India, no one dressed like that—even the women who broke rocks for highways wore skirts. My friends who were lawyers and doctors wore either saris or salwar kameez. The look was very, very feminine. We lived there for two years, and that’s when I really began to associate femininity with power.
Lee Ann Norman: I don’t think we have that same sensibility here.
LD: No. Since living there, I’ve stopped wearing pants and only wear dresses. I was so influenced by that time in India. The interest in femininity and forcefulness is something that lasted for me.
LAN: Can you tell me a little more about words as armor, how that came into being when you started making the dress forms and adding words? It’s making me think of Islamic art where so much of it is based in calligraphy because to make an image of God would be considered blasphemous.
LD: Muslim warriors in the 18th century would go into battle and have a prayer to Allah engraved on their armor, and thus be protected by an amulet of words. Historically, there’s not been much protective armor for women. So what does that mean? Are we not battle heroes to be protected? Think of the woman character [Brienne of Tarth] in the TV series Game of Thrones—she’s fantastic—big and strong, and she’s armored, yet still a girl. My metal linguistic dresses are perforated with solids of metal words and spaces where they are wired together. Clothing, like language, selectively conceals and reveals.
Read More at artslant.com >> Image : Big Gal Faith, Installation view from Faith & the Devil, Traveling Exhibition [emphasis added]
Sculpture Magazine, September 2014, Vol 33 No.7
A publication of the International Sculpture Center
On view at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum through October 13, 2014, www.decordova.org >>
A sculptor, photographer, printmaker, and performance artist, Dill has spent 20 years exploring the human form, language, and sensory experience. Language is her "touchstone [and] pivot point" : stitched and woven into her works, the words of Emily Dickinson, Salvador Espriu, Franz Kafka, and other writers find a new kind of visual life. This exhibition features 16 works made between 1993 and 2012, ranging from drawings, bronze and paper dress sculptures, and a large-scale metal and fiber tapestry to outdoor sculpture. While her early works display an ephemeral lightness of touch and a quiet spirituality, these recent pieces open fresh avenues into materiality, using the metaphors of language and clothing to explore the elusive boundaries separating mind, body, and spirit.
www.sculpture.org >> Image : Lesley Dill, installation view with (left to right) Dress of Opening and Close of Being, Rapture's Germination, and Wood Word Woman with Wood Word Pedestal
Lesley Dill at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
May 16 - October 13, 2014
A 20-year survey of work by the American artist, the exhibition Lesley Dill features oil pastel drawings, a large-scale metal wall drawing, and bronze and paper sculptures in the Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery, as well as an outdoor sculpture on the Pollock Terrace.
Dill is known for combining language with the human form in a variety of mediums. In her work, she uses text as a mode of communication, as a physical subject, and as a symbol by painting it onto bronze sculptures, stitching it into paper, and sculpting it in metal. The words of poets including Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, Salvador Espriu, and most recently Tom Sleigh, inspire and find physical form within her visceral works. Lines of text appear on disembodied heads, hands, and dresses–all reoccurring motifs in Dill's oeuvre–communicating the artist's interest in the politics of the figure, psychology, and faith.
Dill calls herself a collector and a creature of language: "I'm interested in the alchemy of language, the uncertainty of meaning and the resonance within our bodies with a metaphor clicks… Language is a manifestation of the human need to reach out. As much as my work is about language, it's also about what the image does to you, and how the two together make a whole."
The exhibition at deCordova features sixteen works made between 1993 and 2012. Highlighting Dill's ambitious artistic experimentation with material as well as the tension between two- and three-dimensional sculpture are Hair Poem Dress (1993), a small dress made of horse hair, thread, and paper; Rush (2006–2007), a 60-foot long mural made of silver foil, organza, and wire; and Wood Word Woman with Wood Word Pedestal (2011), a bust covered with oil stick and silver leaf.
Poems by Emily Dickinson are Dill's conceptual starting point for several works including Word Made Flesh (2002), a small paper sculpture of an outstretched hand holding a pile of letters; and Rapture's Germination (2010), a large oil pastel drawing on Tyvek. Here, Dickinson's words are enlarged, multiplied, and elongated, taking on new shape and meaning through their adaptation into physical form. The visual echoing of letters in Dill's practice alludes to mantras, prayers, and poetry, all of which are commonly recited repeatedly to enforce meaning and memory.
In her most recent artist's book, I Had a Blueprint of History, Dill found inspiration in the words of her contemporary, poet Tom Sleigh. The indignation and darkness Dill discovers in Sleigh's poems counterbalance Dickinson's references to ecstasy and faith, enabling a full range of emotional and psychological expression for Dill's images.
Labor of Love is a new performance created for The Noguchi Museum by performance artist Ernesto Pujol working with sculptor Lesley Dill. Their site-specific performance will take place on Saturday, May 3rd, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Labor of Love is a durational piece that will begin in the morning, shortly after the opening of the museum, and will end in the late afternoon, shortly before its closing, lasting six hours. The entire performance will be in silence.
The performers will enter the gallery together, sit separately at two identical industrial worktables, facing each other under garden windows, and draw all day on 12 rice paper scrolls. The performers will pause, set down their tools, walk and ring one of Noguchi's obsidian Sounding Stones, slowly switch places, and continue working on each other's six white scrolls.
Throughout the six hours, at the top of each hour and every half hour, the performers will thus engage in exchanges, mark-making individually and sequentially, while marking time audibly. This is the first time that the Sounding Stones have ever been used. They will be heard 12 times during the performance.
The work of Isamu Noguchi impresses viewers not only with its master craftsmanship, but also with its love. Anyone who contemplates his legacy can feel the love Noguchi felt for nature, art and humanity. His works are an invitation to deep presence. Artists Pujol and Dill seek to experience the Noguchi spirit for one day.
The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum is located at: 32-37 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City, New York 11106
For more information, please contact: Dakin Hart, Senior Curator. 718.204.7088 ext. 211. email@example.com
By Ernesto Pujol, www.abladeofgrass.org
Lesley Dill’s interdisciplinary practice combines sculpture, literature and, more recently, opera. She works with text, with the material of words, the way others carve rock. We had the pleasure of attending a Buddhist retreat together at Poets’ House in Tribeca during June 2012. We bonded over our mutual love for silent walking, and devotion. Since then, we have been meeting monthly to converse about deep practice, dreaming up future performative collaborations, which can only be described as gift giving. Dill has been on the road for the past six months with several major exhibition projects. I catch her as she returns from her show, Poetic Visions: Sister Gertrude Morgan & Shimmer at the Halsey Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. She is about to receive a lifetime achievement award in printmaking from the Southern Graphics Conference International, where she will also launch a new collaborative book, I Had A Blueprint of History.
Ernesto Pujol: Can you speak about your formation?
Lesley Dill: During my childhood in Maine, I was a great reader because I was sick a lot. I had bouts of allergies, asthma, and bronchitis. I read continuously through these illnesses. In-between, I would bicycle to the library and pick up as many books as their quota allowed (which were seven), and I would read them back-to-back. In addition, I had two miraculous great aunts and a miraculous grandfather in Annisquam, Massachusetts. I say this because of the long-lasting effect they had on me. Aunts Peggy and Dorothy played an incremental Scrabble game every year, at the end of which they would gleefully add up their scores. They were also printmakers—each carving a single large linoleum block print for a year with Exacto blades. Their printed images were based on nature, on plants and animals. They would print them on fabric for the Folly Cove Designers.
Ernesto Pujol: So, those three unforgettable relatives were your first teachers.
Lesley Dill: Aunt Peggy was the first person to put a twist of colored yarn in my hand. She taught me how to weave. My grandfather taught ceramics and physics at MIT. At home, he worked in clay and Plasticine, creating busts of his children and grandchildren. He had a tree farm of over 140 acres “just to watch the trees grow,” he would say, as he walked barefoot across his land. So, he had very thick callouses on his feet, half an inch thick. He was also a silent man, barely speaking at all. “Want to go for a walk?” he would suddenly ask, and we went into the woods, walking silently, listening to the sounds of birds and leaves. He wanted me to make something of myself.
Ernesto Pujol: What about your parents?
Lesley Dill: My mother taught speech and drama at the girl’s high school I attended in Maine. She was the one who first introduced me to theater and to public speaking—the articulated publicly communicated word. I always thank her when I am on the road delivering a public talk. I also believe that she is the main influence behind my involvement with performance art today. My father had a different relationship to language. He was a paranoid schizophrenic who often had four, five or six different secret meanings to certain words. For example, if he heard the word “go,” sometimes he would do just that—he would get in the car and drive to California, returning home later during the week. The color “red” had dire meanings for him. If one of us wore a red sweater, he would perceive it as a threatening nonverbal message. It took my living in India, where red is a joyful color, to give me back an upbeat read on that color. Thus, I grew up in a “psychologically bilingual” family, widely extroverted and deeply introverted. That is how the meaning of words and the nature of language became deeply impacting for me.
Ernesto Pujol: Not only do you find inspiration in literature, but also you use literary quotes as your content and as visual elements, as form. Can you elaborate on this?
Lesley Dill: I am a collector of words. I once had what amounts to a visual experience turned physical—incarnate—while reading. It was electric. My Mother gave me a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and, as I turned the pages, phrases jumped off and flew down my throat like birds. In a place deep inside me, images for art making began to be born. I remember that experience as the beginning of what I call my Word Jump Process. Seven years later, the process reoccurred while reading other poets. It became my secret way of experiencing text. I now gather years of collected language in this fashion and knit words and phrases together into elaborate puzzles of text. I give them to the viewer as gifts. I am a recombinant collagist of sequential and non-sequential language. Every sculpture or song or drawing or print—every one has to have its own perfect skew of a linguistic attendant. I am a matchmaker of words and images.
Ernesto Pujol: How do you go about it?
Lesley Dill: I set aside a whole day, or two consecutive days for it. The word collecting process is very intense. I am nervous; I am surrounded by books and dog-eared pages of things, read and unread. I take my mind into a certain unnamable place of receptivity, and then I go, go, go—reading, scanning, swooping; turning pages steadily with an even beat; waiting for whatever word medleys will fly up and catch my ever-watchful inner eye. I really have to go into a kind of trance for this process to happen, for it to happen with truthfulness and purity. Only then, something happens.
Ernesto Pujol: Yet you also write original texts, you have a voice within the voice.
Lesley Dill: Yes, there is a throat inside the throat, like the trill of a double-throated woodland bird. I have tried to launch language from the empty bucket of my generative text mind. Nevertheless, I have to confess, the effort almost killed my mind while recently attempting that. I almost lost my intuitive recognition ability, the flow that I have always experienced. So—no more! I am just myself now, flowing again. I am a conductor of the visuality of stringed and horned words, as symphonies, or as intimate voices.
Ernesto Pujol: You have made peace with your art making process, making no demands, surrendering to your tides.
Lesley Dill: What is your process with language? I get the feeling from reading your books that you simply sit down and language flows out of you with ease, like water falling out of your pockets.
Ernesto Pujol: You are very generous in turning the tables around, asking me about my use of language. Only a true scholar of experiential language could offer me that. My sincerest response is that your insight is correct. I sit down to write about performance art, about my life and practice, and it flows out like an uninterrupted stream. In fact, I often feel as if I walk around with pockets-full of water, leaking and ready to leak. I find thinking about writing and writing about thinking very hard to contain. Perhaps I should say that, for me, writing is an obsession preceded, experienced and followed by obsessive thinking. I sit down to write fiction, my latest endeavor, the short novel, and one thought catapults another like an avalanche. My process combines what is therapeutically known as automatic writing (consciousness spontaneously mining a willing unconscious), as psychic and autistic gestures combined.
Lesley Dill: I knew it!
Ernesto Pujol: But let us turn back to you. You have also engaged in opera. How did you arrive to that medium?
Lesley Dill: It happened at the former SOHO Guggenheim, and later, in 1995, at the Dada Ball at Webster Hall. I started choreographing performances with a woman at the center, in a symbolic dress. Four of us would slowly rip off her dress while we recited lines of poetry. Eventually, Bill T. Jones invited me to perform in a project he was curating in Paris. I felt we needed music and collaborated with Ed Robbins and Annie Murdock in creating a soundtrack. After that, every community project I did seemed to involve a choir or a chorus. In Boulder, Colorado, I found the wonderful Tom Morgan, director of the Ars Nova Singers, and we started to collaborate on an opera called Divide Light. Then—we were funded! That opened us up to more collaborators: Richard Marriott, coming in as composer, The Del Sol String Quartet, and The Choral Project, with Daniel Hughes. In the end, it was a completely amazing experience performed in 2008 at the Montalvo Art Center in San Jose, California. (Please visit www.dividelight.com)
Ernesto Pujol: Your costumes are sculpture, even as they are also scripts, long vertical and horizontal monologues with the self and others. They fold and unfold; they trail as trains. Do you conceive of them for a character in a play, an opera, or do they come to you regardless of staged narratives?
Lesley Dill: Yes! Completely. Each of the costumes I created for the opera Divide Light, as well as for shorter performance pieces, such as I Dismantle and Speaking Dress, are performing personas in their own right. In I Dismantle, the performer walks quietly in a white suit covered with the black undersides of rolled long rolls of fabric. It is as if the person is wisely but innocently carrying these identifiers on her body, as walking events. Thus, arriving at an appointed place, four attendants dressed in black slowly begin to unroll the fabric to reveal white upsides with Dickinson language on them: “A Single Screw of Flesh is All that Pins the Soul.” Like a bride, the performer is dressed in this, now totally unrolled, surrounding her, releasing language. Then, veils of white followed by orange are draped over her head.
Ernesto Pujol: It sounds so rich.
Lesley Dill: What influenced me to do it like this was traveling to Mexico and seeing the monarch butterflies with their closed grey wings during early morning. They would slowly, very slowly open their wings as the sun rose and warmed them. In choreographing the opera, I planned where each costume would appear and be activated; I calculated how many performers a single costume-activation would require. Almost every costume is a book or a scroll needing to be unrolled, opened out, spiraled around by various attendants. The final rendition of the dress is bright red, covered with the word “Ecstasy.” The performer moves across the whole stage singing “Ecstasy,” eventually rising up on a ladder, her back to the audience, slowly raising her long red gloved arms up and out with spread fingers. Then—flash! All goes black; the opera has ended.
Ernesto Pujol: You have a history of combining practices. Does this mix of disciplines come naturally, or do you make theoretical decisions about it? Because it feels very driven.
Lesley Dill: Like a wild dog in the woods looking for buried bones.
Ernesto Pujol: You have answered my question poetically, if not viscerally. Can you define devotion?
Lesley Dill: Immediate prostration of mind and body. What is it for you?
Ernesto Pujol: In this context, a disciplined dedication (rational), and an unexplainable attachment (irrational), combined in relation to something, usually an intangible. However, it could be to the material, like the environment. It could be a very secular term. And this makes me wonder: Is there a spirit of the times? Or are you above the moment (or perhaps underground), pursuing something like high wind or secret stream?
Lesley Dill: In art terms, we are in mega-eclectic times. Anyone can do anything they want, style and medium-wise. However, this is not a carefree time. We have experienced an economic downturn, which is finally hitting the art world. And New York City has suffered a natural disaster (the recent storm). We cannot ignore that.
Ernesto Pujol: You are seeking to perform more, even as you continue to make beautiful haunting objects and remarkable collages fed by ancient cultures. Tell us about your desire to walk. It is very brave.
Lesley Dill: I am engaging in walking performances—because of you! Because of my new friendship with choreographer Ernesto Pujol, who is dreaming with me about opportunities to perform, together and alone. I have practiced Buddhist walking meditation for many many years. It is wonderful to finally unite spiritual practice with my art practice, as one and the same.
By Adam Parker, Post and Courier
Sometimes visual art is simply meant to dazzle, shock or fascinate. Sometimes its aesthetic is superficial: it’s the surface of the work, what’s clearly visible, that communicates a fundamental idea of beauty or brutality or intricacy. Art for art’s sake.
But sometimes, art is about ideas, and what’s visible is only the outward manifestation of something larger or more significant. This is art as symbol.
Some of the best visual art, though, is a combination of the physical, intellectual and emotional. It works aesthetically while simultaneously conveying ideas of interest and resonating within us for reasons that are not always immediately clear.
For Brooklyn-based artist Lesley Dill, it is this third category that fascinates her most and drives her to create large-scale installations that mix imagery and text.
“Art is a visual philosophy as well as being visual entertainment and visual decoration, and we want to say yes to all those,” Dill said when reached by phone earlier this month.
For her, words are signifiers — visual symbols — that can embody various meanings, and she uses them abundantly to create something that might be described as a cross between painting and mural.
Her work is the subject of the show “Poetic Visions,” which opened this weekend at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and runs through March 9. The exhibition, organized by the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash., opened there last year and now comes to Charleston for its second (and final) showing.
Organized in conjunction with the gallery show is the Tongues Aflame Poetry Series, designed as a response to Dill’s fusion of image and language and co-sponsored by the Halsey Institute, the Poetry Society of South Carolina and the College of Charleston’s Department of English and its literary journal “Crazyhorse.” Free public readings are planned for Feb. 7, 14, 19 and 21. Celebrating intensity
Dill said she prefers a collaborative approach to art-making.
“Half the week I am ... by myself, and I am planning and thinking and reading and working,” she said. “The second half of the week, I have two assistants who work with me. And because of my lack of computer skills, which one really needs today, they really help with that. They don’t help, they take over.”
They also sprawl on the floor and help put the art together, she said. In the summer, she has up to 10 interns in the studio.
“My work is very labor intensive, very repetitive.” So she asks aspiring interns a simple question: “Can you sit in one place for eight hours and not move and make me feel that you are not unhappy?”
Recently, a prospective intern answered perfectly: “That’s my idea of heaven,” she said.
The work “Shimmer,” which Dill finished in 2006, is among her largest projects. It’s made of more than 2 million feet of thin, silvery wire strands that descend from a cryptic string of words (from a surrealistic poem by the Catalan writer Salvador Espriu) like a beard grows forth from a face: “You may laugh but I feel within me suddenly strange voices of God / and handles dog’s thirst and message of slow memories that disappear across a fragile bridge.”
The other big work that Halsey visitors can admire is “Hell Hell Hell / Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan and Revelation.”
This is a multifaceted installation consisting of large mural-like paintings, mannequins dressed in black and white respectively, with large letters hand-stitched to the material, and intricate cutouts mounted on the walls along the upper edge of the paintings.
The words are positioned in odd formations, creating a strong sense of motion. The trains of the dresses, also written upon, extend far back to the wall behind, sloping their way to the ceiling. This is a kind of dynamic portraiture that takes the form of a performance.
Gertrude Morgan was a New Orleans-based folk artist, street evangelist and eccentric poet who, moved by her faith in God to change her life at age 38, left her family to relocate from Georgia to the Big Easy, a den of sin and corruption, to launch her peculiar ministry. She died in 1980, but not before garnering significant attention from the art world.
Dill said she first encountered the work of Sister Gertrude at a 2004 exhibit organized by the American Museum of Folk Art. Her reaction was forceful and immediate. Here was a fellow artist who combined image and word, who thought deeply and shared a uniquely poetic vision.
“I fell in love with the freedom in her work,” Dill said.
When a New Orleans art dealer invited Dill to mount a gallery installation, she jumped at the opportunity even though she didn’t know what she would do.
“Then the idea came to me: Sister Gertrude. I’m entranced by her reverence, by her voice, by her ability to change her life and to change the way she dressed. During the first part of her life, she dressed in ecclesiastical black, then she had a vision she was the bride of Christ, so she started wearing white.”
Dill said she admired Sister Gertrude’s devotion. The black and white dresses she’s made represent aspects of the folk artist’s life and character. The enormous, flowing trains were made to reflect Sister Gertrude’s focused determination, fervor and irrationality.
“I wanted to celebrate that intensity,” Dill said.
Yet nothing about the installation is clear-cut.
“Every word opens questions about meaning,” she said. “So I think every word is a metaphysical experience.” Language of art
Halsey Institute Director Mark Sloan said the Dill show is atypical for his gallery. He likes to promote the work of “emerging artists,” those on the cusp of national or international recognition.
“This is an unusual artist for us in that she’s fully emerged,” he said. Her work has been shown in major museums and galleries. And the meaning of her art is plastic, open to various interpretations, Sloan said.
“She fuses language and image better than any artist I know,” he said.
In the smaller of the Halsey’s two gallery spaces, Dill’s Allegorical Figures made of foil are shown. These are extraordinary pieces — not quite sculpture, not quite painting — that marry text and form and celebrate dress: the way we envelop ourselves in material and the way that material expresses who we are.
“Dress of Change,” “Dress of Flame and Upside-Down Bird,” “Dress of Solace and Undoing.” These are their titles, their meaning left for the viewer to decide.
Dill, who was born in Bronxville, N.Y., and grew up in Maine by the ocean, said her parents, both teachers, inspired her, especially her mother. She was a speech and drama teacher who made her daughter comfortable with the theater.
Maine shaped her worldview, she said.
“It would start snowing at the beginning of November, and you would not see the ground until late March. My world was the shimmering grayness of the Atlantic Ocean and black trees against white snow.”
The “austere edginess” of the Maine landscape can be seen in “Shimmer” and in the Allegorical Figures.
The poetry of Emily Dickinson also has influenced Dill, and not just the poetry but the nature and character of the poet, she said. Another big influence was her two years spent in northern India. She was there in the 1990s when her husband, Ed Robbins, had a job with USAID.
“I am still amazed: Is there a foreign country you’ve ever walked into where you’ve felt like you’re home?”
She could not understand Hindi, and because just about everyone speaks English, she wasn’t required to learn it.
“So I finally encountered a language where I could let go and just listen,” Dill said. It was melodic, indecipherable, liberating. Ever since, her relationship to language has been freer, open, gauzy. She has celebrated its “up-frontness” as well as its mysteriousness and elusiveness.
At the Halsey, the spectator enters a space plush with imagery and texture and, at the same time, fragmented and strange. Loneliness and isolation are tangible. Meaning is everywhere but hard to grasp tight.
“My work does address a certain kind of introverted theatricality,” Dill said. It is a combination of modesty and amazement.
By Elizabeth Pandolfi, Charleston City Paper
I've been poring over the exhibit catalog for Lesley Dill's Poetic Visions: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan for days. The pages are filled with images of richly colored, dramatic mixed-media creations. A figure in a huge white wedding dress with a train that rises to meet the ceiling, its face shrouded in layers and layers of tulle. Colorful paper skeletons riding skeletal horses across a wall. Ambiguous, metallic human forms, some looking to the sky, some seeming to stare right back at the viewer. And most importantly, words. There are words everywhere, on the wedding dress, on the walls, in the skeletons' hands.
The mingling of image and language, specifically the language of poetry, is Lesley Dill's hallmark. Her language-saturated work resides in such hallowed halls as those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. For a long time she drew only from the poems of Emily Dickinson for her artwork, but she now uses the words of other writers too. For this exhibit, it's the New Orleans missionary and visionary Sister Gertrude Morgan who takes center stage.
Having spent so long looking at the exhibit on paper, I think I know what to expect when I arrive at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art to see the installation in progress. But seeing the work in person is an utterly different experience — the scale, especially, is way more overwhelming than I'd imagined. Black text and images stretch from the floor to the ceiling, 13-and-a-half feet, on nearly every wall. The letters are huge, some of them easily four or five feet tall. And the installation isn't even halfway complete yet.
"You're really seeing us when we're just beginning," the Halsey's director Mark Sloan says as he leads me through the gallery. We stop at Shimmer, a long, waterfall-like creation made out of pieces of ultra-thin wire and metal foil. It's one of the centerpieces of this exhibit. Shimmer is massive, 60 feet long, and up close the wire looks almost exactly like silver hair. The wires are bundled in sections, some of which are still wrapped in paper. "We haven't fluffed this yet," Sloan says. "That's a big part of this piece, the fluffing."
Above the waterfall in metallic letters is a poem by the Catalan poet Salvador Espriu:
You may laugh, but I feel
within me, suddenly, strange
voices of God and handles,
dog's thirst and message of
slow memories that disappear across a fragile
This is the kind of mystical, otherworldly language that Dill is drawn to. She's had many experiences that have profoundly influenced her work, from growing up in the stark geography of Maine to living for two years in India, but perhaps one of the most important was her first encounter with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. "I've never been a poetry person," she says. But upon coming across a collection of Dickinson's work, she started looking through it. "I just started flipping through the pages and then this magical, kind of alchemical, thing happened for me. Her words, some of them, just leapt out of the page and into my body. Some of them were bright blue — literally, this is what it looked like to me," she says. "I actually had to close the book."
Despite the intensity of that experience, she didn't immediately think of incorporating the poetry into her work. And when she did, it was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing. "I had been making this sculpture that was clothing, and I just casually thought, 'It feels a little empty — why don't I put words on it?' So I put this poem of Dickinson's on it, and I thought, 'Oh! OK, that looks good.' But that was very casual. The epiphany was the fact of the language, what happened with the language."
After that, she became something of an Emily Dickinson addict. "The language started secreting images for works," she says. "I would open the book like it was this magic book, and a phrase would come into my body — like, 'Electrical the embryo / But we demand the flame' — and like three images for ideas for artwork would come up." Reading Dickinson, and later other poets, became so invigorating that Dill couldn't read at night, because she could never get to sleep. That's still true today, and she now sets aside full days for reading poetry, or "language collecting," as she calls it.
Usually, Dill uses just a phrase or a few lines from a poem, but Shimmer was an exception. "I'm not obedient to the poetry," she says. "I only take what's pertinent to the visual, except for Shimmer — that was one that I felt I could swallow whole." The work is meant to highlight the powerful ways that words affect us, even when they seem quiet and subdued. "I wanted to communicate to the world what I felt — this surging, almost organic, natural power of words."
The piece also calls upon her childhood in Maine, in a town perched on the edge of the Atlantic. "That silvery infinity that goes out into the ocean ... it's not literal in my mind, but now that I reflect on it [Shimmer] really was influenced by the nature of the endless ocean, what felt like the endless ocean."
The second major installation in the Poetic Visions exhibit, Hell Hell Hell, Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan and Revelation, was inspired by Morgan's life and artwork. Born in Alabama in 1900, the Christian missionary and preacher left her family to live in New Orleans because it was, as she called it, "the headquarters of sin." Morgan painted, played music, and preached, claiming divine inspiration. She, like Dill, often combined text and image in her art. After receiving a revelation that she was to be the bride of Christ, Morgan switched from wearing all black to all white, and it is this that forms the focal point of Dill's installation, which she originally created for the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. The piece consists of 10 drawings that include both text and image, hundreds of small paper cutout figures, a long strip of words, and, perhaps most strikingly, two figures, one wearing a black dress, the other wearing a white wedding dress. The words she incorporates come from Morgan's writings, as well as the poet Tom Sleigh, Espriu, and Dickinson, who, interestingly, is also thought to have dressed in white.
Locating the work in New Orleans, which was still recovering from Katrina, added an additional layer of significance. "Because it was New Orleans, I thought hell is fire, but it's also water," Dill says. "So in there are words from the Book of Revelation, which Sister Gertrude was a big fan of, but also there is Dickinson: 'You cannot fold a Flood — / and put it in a Drawer —.' That little quiet, electrical voice of hers is threaded throughout."
Poetic Visions, which is a traveling exhibit, is a significant departure for the Halsey, which almost always originates its own shows. These works, on the other hand, have been shown in Dill's gallery in New York as well as New Orleans, and were gathered together to form Poetic Visions by Barbara Matilsky of the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. "We rarely show the work of an artist who's this emerged," Sloan says. "We tend to show people whom no one has ever heard of ... who then go on to become very well-known, as has often happened." Sloan made the decision to house this exhibit partly for personal reasons — he's loved Dill's work for many years — but also because, he says, it's important to be able to show something of this caliber. "It helps establish a kind of bar, a level. One of the things we like to do is provide not only the community, but other artists with a kind of holy cow, this inspirational [experience]."
And that, at its heart, is what Poetic Visions is about. Whatever one calls it, whether vision, revelation, or inspiration, Dill's art speaks to those moments of personal, deeply felt joy that have always been associated with mystics and poets, but that Dill calls insight — something we've all experienced. Somehow she communicates those untranslatable feelings, whether through a torrent of words on a massive page, or the skyward arc of a dress train. "I love devotion in whatever form it may take," Dill says. "This stuff is a poetry to me. All of it is the truth."
"Artist Lesley Dill translates Dickinson into other mediums" By Bob Keefer, www.registerguard.com
A pivotal point in Lesley Dill's life came when her mother gave her, as a 40th birthday present, a volume of poetry by Emily Dickinson.
It presented a challenge for someone who didn't like poetry.
"I thought, 'Oh, no, Ma.' I had never been a poetry person. I like prose. It's a big textual sponge," she explained in a phone interview last week. "And my mind, when I read poetry, would be down to the bottom of the page so fast.
"I wasn't slow enough in my mind at that time to read poetry. So with Emily Dickinson, I thought: Here's a big homework assignment from my mother."
Dill, a visionary artist from New York, is in Eugene this week for the opening of "Lesley Dill's Poetic Visions," which begins with a reception Friday night and runs through Dec. 9 in the big Barker Gallery at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon.
Dill is nationally recognized for an artistic career that has explored art and language through such diverse media as drawing, sculpture, photography, installation and even opera.
Her career grew out of that experience reading Dickinson's poetry.
"The words would just jump off the page," Dill said, and she began to quote a line of Dickinson over the phone: "I felt my life with both my hands/ To see if it was there."
"The words were intoxicating," she said "In a way, they jumped into my body blind, as if they were seeds.
"I sound like such a girl. They lit some imagistic place inside me on fire, so that into my eyes would come the words, and in the back of my mind they would become images.
"The images would have nothing to do with the particular words."
Dill began to use Dickinson's words as an artistic catalyst. She didn't read another poet for seven years.
"It was like eating a certain food, a special food, that worked. I didn't even tell people about it. It was like my secret. You don't want to blow it, or smother it with consciousness.
"I learned from her incredible cadence and structure and brevity and juxtaposition of unlikely phrases and adjectives. 'Divide light.' Is light dividable?"
She was a New Orleans fixture, raucously and righteously proclaiming the Kingdom of God day and night to all who had ears to hear. Like the prophet of Lamentations, she was an eccentric character, eliciting jeers or astonishment from bystanders as the crazy lady preached and sang on the corner with her tambourine.
Claiming divine instructions from God, Sister Gertrude Morgan faithfully wore a spotless, white nurse’s uniform symbolizing purity and holiness. In 1939 she launched four decades of personal warfare against the “headquarters of sin in the city” by running an orphanage and later a mission and preaching through the arts.
Morgan’s biblical vision tossed motley objects into one bright, burning creation that the public easily understood. “Messages from God” came in the form of poems, songs and paintings on discarded window shades and pieces of Styrofoam. Her art served a higher purpose than recycling though, as colorful visual aids for her sermons, such as “New Jerusalem with Jesus is My Airplane.”
Wasn’t Sister Gertrude an unwitting pioneer of the mixed-media installations that are now common?
Her life’s projects, such as the “The Everlasting Gospel Mission,” the uniforms and repeated imagery might even fit the description of an immersion alternative reality (only lacking the technology.) Morgan’s reality and projects were very real and holy in her mind, though, a focused spiritual journey that bridged both life and death.
In 2005, years after Sister Gertrude’s death, a comprehensive collection of her art was shown for the first time at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Critic Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times was impressed, extolling her art as “what it means to say art is a calling” and claiming that “it would be heaven if works like hers were eternally before our eyes.”
Did Sister Gertrude’s life really make a real difference? God alone knows, but she has become an unlikely muse to at least a few artists in the secular world in spite of her oddness and the always unpopular message of impending doom barking at her heels.
One of the most interesting is artist Lesley Dill and her magnificent installation, first at Arthur Roger Gallery and still circulating: “Hell Hell Hell Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation” (2010). Dill is well known for her fascination with Emily Dickinson and incorporation of lettering, poetry and literature into feminist and spiritual themes.
Morgan’s life left with Dill lots of material for her visually riveting installation. Seizing on Sister Gertrude’s call to model the “Bride of Christ” by her life, Dill’s centerpiece is two monumental gowns; a dark dress symbolizing Morgan’s past life and a white “bridal” dress radiating streams of poetry and apocalyptic scripture through the space. Themes on the dress and great drawings were some of Morgan’s favorites: the Antichrist, Revelations, the Whore of Babylon, Hell and Heaven.
Fabric unfurls from the 6-foot bridal dress, which speaks through hand-sewn fabric letters on glory, calling and hopes of heaven. Its nemesis is echoed by a darkly clothed manikin placed before an oversize drawing recalling a “serpent spewing water, rushing rivers” and other apocalyptic images. The entire space is staged as ongoing battles of contrast between heaven and hell. Keeping with theme, Dill drapes oversized glass beads sandblasted with references to poems by Morgan and Dickinson as well as relevant texts by Pablo Neruda, Katherine Ann Porter and Franz Kafka.
English major Dill could easily make several connections between Emily Dickenson and Gertrude Morgan: the sparse but very individual style of verse; rejection of social expectations for women; preoccupation with eternity and death; and of course the white dress Emily always wore for reasons she took to her grave.
Dill’s work is beautifully and carefully crafted, revealing a complex, deep philosophy but it lacks one thing the Sister’s cruder art achieved: a unified statement – in her case, of faith.
In Dill’s work, bits of biblical quotes and poetry wheel around the walls and figures like a textual tornado in antique gothic scripts. The tug of constant conflict between heaven/hell and good/evil run about unresolved, leaving an unsettled feeling as if wandering into the fitting room of a mad tailor.
It was logical to ask Dill about her own religious beliefs, since so many of her projects focus on spirituality and transcendent themes.
She mentioned an Episcopal child baptism and later a Baptist “rebaptism” as part of a project, which has got to be one of the most unusual reasons to convert I’ve heard yet. Dill didn’t make a clear confession to any faith, which surprised me because of the energy and power of her installations.
Her muse Sister Gertrude was explicit and unwavering about religion and demoted her art entirely to its service. Speaking about her creations, she denied much involvement.
“He’s the One that made me do it, He deserves the praise” she humbly insisted.
“He moves my hand; do you think I would ever know how to do a picture like this by myself?” she once asked an interviewer.
But Dill hasn’t been the only artist moved by Sister Gertrude’s piety and dramatic creations.
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, composer and performer King Britt remixed Sister Gertrude’s songs and presented them, doing live backgrounds for relief concerts. The result was a recording released by Preservation Hall in 2005 “King Britt presents Sister Gertrude Morgan,” which combined the evangelist’s recordings from 1970 with a just a bit of contemporary reworking. It’s been used in episodes of Miami Vice and HBO’s True Blood (soundtrack was nominated for an Emmy).
I think Sister Gertrude would be truly surprised by this flurry of attention in recent times and wonder what it means. Secular artists using themes on heaven, death and hell will be with us always, since it’s impossible to mine more fascinating or fertile imagery than that of the Bible. Does this signify a return of Christianity to the art world? ‘Tis a possibility devoutly to be wished, but reviewers of Dill’s spiritually loaded exhibits generally tiptoe right past it.
David Brown of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art is an exception. He sees larger issues in Dill’s work, such as the “question of contemporary art’s role in spiritualism” and differences between the “world of organized religion and the mystical revelations” of individuals. Personally I would love to see dozens of exhibits along those lines. Now that would be heavenly.
You may see a variety of Dill’s work in a traveling exhibit, including “Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation” at Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene: Sept. 28-Dec. 9, 2012, and the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art in Charleston, S.C.: Jan. 25-March 8, 2013.