Getting to Know Lesley, How She Works, and What Makes Her Tick
Lesley Dill Visits SMOA

Lesley Dill invites us into her world of wonder and whimsical invention as she gives physical presence to the written word. She draws upon a unique vocabulary of visual metaphors, enhancing our interpretation of verbal communication. With intuition she informs and expands our understanding of ourselves, as she amplifies the deeper meaning of the spoken language through her exquisite works of art. 

She is a powerful performer who magically transforms a multitude of materials—paper and bronze, fabric and foil, metal strands, horsehair and more—into stunning similes. Her visible poetry merges form and content, crafting a contemplative, expressive and spiritual journey for all of us to explore. 

Lesley Dill is an artist whose work is pure revelation, forthright and insightful. She wanders the byways of the mind, body, and spirit, taking care to observe the currents of passion, pleasure and pain. To describe Lesley's artwork in a purely straightforward manner would severely limit its intent and its emotional generosity. 

Producing her work demands ritualistic and fastidious attention to repetitive detail, a "labor of love" that provides and meditative focus. Each piece is unique and articulated in meticulous detail. Her voice is heard and her presence is felt in every sculpture, print, photograph, drawing, installation, performance and her opera, "Divide Light."

There have been several highly significant events in Leslie's journey that have had enduring impact on her work and life. The first was an encounter with a prophetic experience when she was only fourteen years old, a vision which ultimately became her truth: she was destined to be an artist. 

Receiving a book of Emily Dickinson's poems from her mother on her fortieth birthday was certainly momentous. As a result of reading these poems, (and other poets) she embarked on a new course in her artistic endeavors. Transforming their words into her art became essential. Words are embedded, obvious or hidden, in all her subsequent creative expression. To quote Lesley, "language is my touchstone, the pivot point of all my work."

Living in New Delhi, India, for two years, surrounded by a completely unfamiliar culture and hearing unintelligible speech was intense and interesting. in her studio in New Delhi, she wanted to recreate this melodic unintelligibility in art work and made a waterfall of white words with the poem by Emily Dickinson, "Dare you See a Soul att he White Heart."

"As Dill has so eloquently reiterated, throughout her career, the point isn't just that we are all figuratively made of vitally resonant text and image, but that there's nothing bloodless about it. The use if metaphor isn't to escape the messiness of existence, but to situate it in a truer context, one where neither idea nor flesh has ascendency and the struggle between them produces a rough but ultimately consoling harmony."

From an article by J. Gluckstern, published in ART PAPERS, January/February 2003, Art and Letters, Lesley Dill's Visionary Poetics.

A native of New England, Dill currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has a Master of Arts for Teaching from Smith College, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute of Art. Dill's work is internationally recognized. She has been the focus of several exhibitions, including two that have toured nationally. Her work is in the collections of numerous major American museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Cleveland Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Kemper museum, Kansas City and the Yale University Art Gallery among many others. Awards include: The Anonymous Was a Woman Award in 2008, the Rockefeller Foundation Multi Artists Production Award with Tom Morgan, the MICA Alumna Award, both in 2007, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant in 1996, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award in Drawing/Printmaking in 1995 and a National Endowment for the Arts Sculpture Fellowship in 1990. She is represented by the George Adams Gallery, New York and the Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans. 

We offer many thanks to the galleries noted above and to the Landfall Press and Graphicstudio for lending her work to SMOA for ARTmuse. 

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A Conversation with Lesley Dill at the Sarasota Museum of Art
Sarasota Visual Art joined in on a Q & A with the Brooklyn artist at the future home of SMOA. The following are excerpts from this meeting...

from Sarasota Visual Art

What artists influence you the most in your career?
Giacometti, because of that strong fragility. He could make a real teeny, teeny, little person and yet there’s such strength. My early work that I rarely exhibit, I actually carved wood that looked like him. I was learning to be an artist, so you kind of apprentice yourself and get what you need from it. Later it was Giacometti, then Phillip Guston, and eventually Francis Bacon who made me realize, “O.K. I cannot do Giacometti because he has already done it”, so you get to that point where you want to enter the field because art is actually a research field- its not just about your feelings, what your childhood was about. When you enter into the art realm you are entering into a research field, and you are hoping to contribute some small sign—a symbol. So in response to not being able to do Giacometti, I thought, “You know, I can make clothing that is delicate and fragile and still have a feeling of strength for sculpture.” And it wasn’t a thought, it was like an, ‘ah ha!’ moment – you know and you just do it, you don’t think of the answer.

Have you given any consideration to the permanence of your work?
Yes, I consider myself to be a very ethical artist. Paper is one of the most archival things. I use material with a pH acid balance to it so it really lasts a long time. I always try to work with excellent paper because of the pH balance.

How were you discovered, what had you done?
I didn’t live in New York until I was 30. I thought I’ll just apply to grad schools and my husband won’t mind. I got rejected from every school except the Maryland institute. Before that, I had five teaching jobs. You have to work; work to make money to support yourself, to make art you have to be ruthless and disciplined. After ten years of awful art I feel I got lucky. I went to galleries and made friends. Then I got accoladed with galleries. Its really important to exhibit your work.

Where did your love of language develop?
When I was a child. I was asthmatic when I was little, and even today I get sinus infections. I was a sickly child, so I read a lot. I read all of Nancy Drew, Little Women, and from that a world of secrets formed in my mind. I love that.

What is your relationship to other languages?
Living in New Delhi, India for two years was very influential to me. My husband had a job and we lived in a really nice neighborhood. Out in the streets was Hindi. A beautiful language … I allowed myself to not decipher it, I just let it be. I then started to love the presence of the language. I have found that traveling, and good friends from other places, that there is something great about someone that speaks in a language I have no access to.

Do you make time for reading?
“Oh my God!” I read all the time. That’s part of the engaged reverie. The reading is where my work comes from. That’s how I found home, from language. I read all kinds of things. I have been reading The Shedding Season. Now I’m interested in violence and gentleness, reading Steven Pinker’s new book. His earlier work is, “On Language”. I like to balance readings.

What aspects of the contemporary art world would you change if you could?
I can’t, I don’t mean to be rude. You know I am not a real socialite, you know there are people who love that and I am not much of that so maybe it should change itself. Honestly, I think the art world does recognize art. I believe that there is common knowledge that you look at it and you can do a group vote. When you have a museum and you don’t like something, or are mad at something you will have a group vote- you will find you have clubs. You will have a color club, you will have a political club, there will be the sexual weird club. Art is a big wide philosophy that invites you, it is also a place of silence like a museum.

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About Lesley Dill
Lesley Dill is one of the most prominent American artists working at the intersection of language and fine art. Her work is delicately crafted and emotionally evocative. She magnificently defines the soul of the written word in an inspired visual language of her own imaginative devising. 

Inventing new uses for a variety of unusual materials, Lesley’s unique creations amaze the viewer with their compelling emotional presence. Her magnificent gowns of paper, wire or metal speak a language that is punctuated with awe. She has a magical way of making language visible to the mind, the eye and the soul. 

Lesley is a renowned sculptor, print maker, photographer and performance artist. 

Her work can be found in numerous permanent collections; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York City; the Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Kemper Museum, Kansas City to name a few.

Learn more about Lesley Dill by visiting: www.lesleydill.net

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Dada Poem Dress, 60 x 40 x 50 inches

World, 96 x 96 x 3 inches

Word Queen of Poetry, 74 x 59 x 22 inches

Divide Light, Opera Performance

Poem Eyes #3, photo silkscreen shellac, thread on tea stained muslin

Rise, 240 x 600 x 72 inches

I Lost Myself to My Senses, 58 x 50 inches

Head, 6 x 7 x 3.5 inches

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