Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lesley Dill’s solo exhibition

By Judit Trunkos

The Columbia Museum of Art presents Contemporary American artist Lesley Dill’s solo exhibition titled “I Heard a Voice: The Art of Lesley Dill.” Dill has been working as a sculptor, photographer, printmaker and performance artist for the past 20 years and her most recent works are being exhibited in Columbia. This show surveys Dill’s exploration of the role and influence of language and words, especially poetry and creative writing, on humans. The exhibition, organized by the Hunter Museum of American Art in conjunction with George Adams Gallery, New York, includes 34 pieces from both public and private collections found throughout the United States as well as some sculptures specifically created for this exhibition.

Dill’s work is nationally and internationally recognized. Dill’s awards include a sculpture fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Her work is in numerous major American museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Dill’s inspiration to meld literature and art extends from her education. Dill originally earned a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1972 from Trinity College in Connecticut and she only pursued a master’s degree in fine arts in her 30s. Still, it wasn’t until Dill’s mother gave her a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry that Dill found her artistic vision.  Dickinson’s words resonated with Dill, sparking images that the artist says she just could not ignore. A stay in India distilled her vision of art as an extension of language. Not speaking any of the native languages of India, Dill focused on the aural and visual aspects of the languages she encountered when creating her art. Additionally, Dill discovered the peace and balance of Buddhism. As a result, she departed from two dimensional pieces and explored the use of bronze, photography, poetry, thread, wire and paper to sculpt figures and build tapestries and other wire-installations.

The piece in this collection that best evokes Dill’s time in India is “Rise.” The hand-dyed giant cotton installation is a vivid red, making it visually dramatic. Red is an important color in Hinduism and used for auspicious occasions like marriages, the birth of a child, and tilakas - the mark warn on a Hindu’s forehead symbolizing the mind’s eye. The robed figure at the bottom of the installation is suggestive of an Indian monk or guru. This breath taking piece emphasizes the emotional interconnectedness as well as the social aspects of language and communication as the human figure in the center of the installation seems to be irrevocably tight to different, words and spiritual messages. Even though words and messages are created by humans, Dill illustrates the side-effect of communication; namely the interconnected spider web-like influence of words and message that we humans all seemed to be tangled in.

Dill’s pieces often serve as illustrations to poetic texts by Emily Dickinson, Salvador Espriu, Franz Kafka and others. For Dill, words are her “spiritual armor,” and she freely stitches and weaves them across the surfaces of her multi-layered and mixed media works. Dill’s installations such as the “Rush,” “Word Queen of Laughter” and “Rise” combine the elements of language, such as letters into the human being and human form.  Dill’s wire piece, “Word Queen of Laughter” symbolizes the power of words and the symbiotic relationship between women and words as well as the human form and communication. The tall foil, organza, wire, paint steel installation influences the viewer just as strongly as Dickinson’s and Kafka’s words influenced Dill.

Because of Emily Dickinson’s influence on Dill’s work, museum patrons would be remiss if they didn’t also see The Columbia Museum of Art’s current book-installation titled “Emily Dickinson and Contemporary Fine Printing”, a loan from the Thomas Cooper Library’s Rare Books and Special Collection. This collection of books celebrates the past 50 years of Dickinson’s poems and helps to illuminate Dickinson’s influence on Dill. The Dickinson book-installation can be viewed as preface of Dill’s show, as it illustrates Dill’s inspiration by Dickinson’s world and also show the outcome of her artistic process.

“I Heard a Voice: The Art of Lesley Dill” can be seen through January 23, 2011 at the Columbia Museum of Art on Main Street.

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