Lesley Dill: Ascend, Until the Urge to Rise Meets the Urge to Fall

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • April 04, 2023

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By Lucie Riley- The subtitle of Lesley Dill’s new exhibition of sculptures and painted banners, “Until the Urge to Rise Meets the Urge to Fall” comes from poet Tom Sleigh, one of her most prominent sources for text. This evocative title seems to refer to floating, the space momentarily existing between rising and falling, a suspension in time. This theme and title can also be seen as rooted in her long involvement with visionary experiences. “Ascend” can be taken as an urge to open, to rise up, to go further, to stretch beyond ourselves. To ascend towards some, “Unknown Nourishment within” (Kafka), a phrase she has used on several artworks.

Dill is an artist who is fascinated with the power of words, with “…what reading does to us. How it changes us. How it acts on us." (Thryza Goodeve) Dill's art has long made its place at the interface of image and poetic text drawn from a select group of poets and writers: Emily Dickinson, John Donne, William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov, Pablo Neruda, and Tom Sleigh. This new body of work (2022-2023) is a departure from themes of American history (Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me) and a return to her earlier, more intimately scaled, visionary works.

For Dill, poetry exists in its own philosophical territory—a transcendence occurs in poetry’s presence—a contextual shift, a new resonance when each line is taken from its original context and the letters and words are linked to sculpture. Dill says she hunts for the right words like a fox after a rabbit. Sometimes the words evoke the artwork, and vice versa - some phrases resonate with the image, but often the artwork looks to be paired with a more dissonant companion and often contradictory text.

Throughout this new body of work, many words are constructed from shining and textured metal sheets and wire, other words are stenciled and painted, as seen on the expansive fabric-sleeve wings of Inside Words, a wooden, fabric, and wire female figure with Dickinson’s words “How Ruthless are the Gentle”. Painted word banners wrap the gallery, some repeating lines of text from the sculptures below. They remind the artist of her travels in the mountains of India and Nepal where word-covered banners were a way Buddhist blessings were carried into the winds.

In many of these works, Dill weaves with the warm, often hot tones of copper wire. Taught to weave at age 11 by her great Aunts Peggy and Dorothy, Dill still can feel the touch of thread from childhood. She has used horsehair, thread, and wire in numerous earlier works. Dill has a long history of using a wide range of materials and form; performance, photography, painting, sculpture, stencil, and printmaking have all been enlisted in her pairing of words and image. All are markers of the space poetry opens for her.

Dill describes the amount of intensive hand work that went into these works as almost obsessive: Hours and hours of weaving, stenciling, painting, and cutting flat copper metal shapes. This effort stems from Dill’s desire to give viewers a sense of time that permeates these objects. She is grateful to her art assistants: Allee Errico, Hae Min Yun, Alannah Sears, and in particular Yasunari Itzaki, a skilled wood fabricator.

In the act of creating art with words, Dill is driven by an inner music that guides her in the way words flow with the object and shape the work itself. The words may tangle, as in the Wisp of Iridescence Chandelier, or be presented quietly as a murmur, as a half-remembered dream. They may be as loud and clear as in Woman with 3 Wings Punching Words. Or as in the banners above that in a sense consecrate the works, joining them into a singular space. It is the different ways we read and hear language, and what those words evoke, that is again the subject matter of Dill’s work.

Ascend depicts a small, wooden birdman figure with a single raised wing sitting atop a tall chair. The beginning of a phrase from William Faulkner is emblazoned on the wing, "Rise the Eyes from the". There is only one wing, and beneath the space of the absent wing, a small painted arrow moves the viewer around the sculpture, past that place of disability, to the triumphant end of the phrase almost hidden on the back, “(from the) Deep Quiet into Glory”.

Chairs are a repeated metaphoric image in this body of work. In one sense, Dill sees her wire woven chairs as figures unto themselves. A chair also brings an echo, an implication of a person, someone it waits to appear. A chair in another sense is where we go to read, write, and to be transported. Dill recalls a phrase from 18th century writer Jonathan Edwards, who as he sat reading in the woods suddenly felt a surge of the unknown "...as I read the Words There came into my Soul & was as if Diffused thro’ its A new sense Quite different from anything I’d experienced." Each work within this exhibition of chairs, figures, and chandelier is about the private linguistic moment made viewable and definite. “Ms. Dill’s sculptures are less visual objects for detached aesthetic contemplations than knotty philosophical puzzles that use sculpture as a launching pad.” (Benjamin Genocchio, NYTimes).

Lesley Dill’s artworks are in the collections of over fifty museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Dill received her Master of Arts from Smith College in 1974, and her Master of Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art in 1980. She has received a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship in addition to the Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and Anonymous Was a Woman, among others. Dill conceived and directed an opera, Divide Light, based on the poems of Emily Dickinson that premiered at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA in 2008 and was restaged in New York City in 2018. Dill was the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Museum’s 2019 ‘Tell it Slant’ Award. Dill’s exhibition “Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me,” organized by the Figge Art Museum, is currently traveling to seven other venues through Winter of 2023. Dill is represented by Nohra Haime Gallery in New York and Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Nohra Haime Gallery
500 West 21st Street
New York, New York
About Nohra Haime Gallery

Nohra Haime Gallery opened its doors in New York in 1981. Since its inception, the principal focus has been to represent an internationally diverse group of contemporary artists with varying expertise in painting, sculpture, photography, conceptual art and multimedia installation. For over thirty years, the Gallery has showcased new voices and innovative art, and organized major solo exhibitions within the United States and abroad. It has collaborated with museums and institutions, and advised private collections worldwide. The Gallery actively participates in art fairs, and publishes numerous exhibition catalogues and art books. In 2011, Nohra Haime opened the NH Galería in Cartagena, Colombia. Nohra Haime Gallery is a member of the Art Dealers Association of America.

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