Lesley Dill's Poetic Visions Draws from Poetry, Revelation

By Elizabeth Pandolfi, www.charlestoncitypaper.com

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.