Lesley Dill

ARTIST RESEARCH:                           by Marcy Katz

a. Dates - B. 1950
b. Place of Birth- Bronxville, NY
c. Residence- Brooklyn, NY
d. Education- Trinity College BA English,
Smith College, Northampton, M.A.Philosophy of Education, 1974
Maryland Institute of Art, M.F.A., Painting, 1980
e.Shows/Galleries--Numerous solo and group exhibitions, videos, and
f. Numerous awards and grants: see last entry

Media/Techniques: Dill, a painter, sculptor, printmaker, photographer, and
performance artist, employs a range of materials and techniques in her work. She
combines ink and thread on photographs, inscribing text on the bodies
of models whom she then photographs; creates sculptures of paper, thread, and cloth
or aluminum, oil, ribbon, and salt; makes drawings of ink, charcoal, and pastel. The
scale of her work ranges from smaller than life-size to billboard size.
Dill’s work focuses on the human form--at times a model photographed, at other
times represented by a garment, sometimes only a part of the body: torso, arm,
head--combined with extracts of the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Although she
primarily quotes Dickinson, she also uses excerpts from the poetry of Rilke and
Espriu. In using words, she will vary the size, use of capitals, and clarity-sometimes
making it difficult to decipher, almost like a whisper, at times very clear and bold.
From the catalog: “Dill may treat words as individual personalities, almost as if each
had volition. She uses capitalization to suggest both emphasis and qualities of voice,
spacing to define rhythms, and variations of size to create a sensation of intimacy.
Lines sway and swoop like birds in the air, or course downward with the irresistible
force of water.”

Influences: Lesley Dill’s literary background has of course had a significant
influence on her art. On the occasion of her 40th birthday, her mother gave her a
volume of the poems of Emily Dickinson which she began reading over and over
again, eventually incorporating it into' her work. It is the language, not the content
that she was drawn to: “She goes in and out of a secret language. I grew up with my
father’s secret language--he had schizophrenia and heard voices, voices he was
convinced that I, too understood. I’m interested in these parallel worlds of being.
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. What is our relationship to language”

From 1990-91 she lived in India. Having practiced meditation for years prior to that,
the experience of actually being there for a year and a half, observing the waving
prayer flags and hearing spoken Hindi as pattern, rhythm, and tone without
understanding specific meaning strongly influenced her creative process. To quote


the artist: “A thread of intense spirituality has rim through my work for twelve years
or so, ever since I lived in India.”

Expressive Qualities: In Lesley Dill’s work the words and images are used in harmony-
each element enhancing the other. The images are not illustrations of the text, nor are the
words captions or explanations of the pictures or sculptures. The images have strength
yet convey a sense of fragility, of vulnerability. Her figures are abstract, and she views
the body as a housing or outward skin for a being, a soul. Her interest is in the “exquisite
moment. . .triggered by the poignancy of an image or the brilliance of a poetic phrase.”

Recurrent in her work seems to be the subject of vision-closed or covered eyes
suggestive of concentration-and visions as they perhaps relate to intuitive type of
art work coming from the unconscious such as she has experienced on reading
Dickinson’s poetry. She has recently, in community projects, explored the “visions”
and “ecstatic experiences” of others.

Her work also deals with memory and relationship, coming back to the “soft spots of
htunan existence-how one person relates to others in the present or in the past. She
also deals with the issues of gender, of vulnerability and strength, of the elusive and
the concrete.

“When I was given a book of Dickinson’s works, the language released me. My response
was not tied to her content, but to the immediate sense of feeling “lined up” with the
experience of her words. I’m interested in the “alchemy” of language, the uncertainty of
meaning and the resonance within our bodies when a metaphor clicks. Sometimes the
language around us is melodic and affecting, but unintelligible .... ”
“The tops of my dress sculptures are always small and flat, but the skirts are voluminous
This kind of compression-versus-expansion is in all of my works. I used the dress as an
image at a time when my fellow female sculptors and I tended to dress in jeans and work
boots: it was a uniform that declared our bid for strength. I was struck by expressions of
femininity in India when I lived there from 1990-91. Even women doing road
construction wore saris. Women looked strong yet feminine at the same time. For me
making the dresses became a defiant act .... .”
And on the topic of her recent community-based projects in North Carolina and

“A thread of intense spirituality has run through my work for twelve years or so, ever
since I lived in India. Lately my investigation has moved from being implicit and silent
to one that is more explicit. I am interested in spiritually specific language and imagery,
which has generated for me not only a deeper introspection but also a keen interest in
action and the community. Thought, prayer, mantra are all the language of the inner
murmur. Spoken language, on the other hand, is a bridge to the outer world. I am
interested in the parallel depths of private and public words and worlds. What is the
nature of the relationship between our subjective experience of the inner mind and the

objective world‘?”
The catalog is a Must-Read, and there is other interesting material in the TCM Library. I
think that this is also a wonderful opportunity to re-read some of Emily Dickinson’s
Honey Pavel

Supplemental resources:

For more visuals of her work:

In 2008 she created and directed a full scale opera, “Divide Light” based on the language
of Emily Dickinson. She and composer Richard Marriott are working on a 2nd opera
based on the life and writings of Machiavelli. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesley_Dill

She is included in an upcoming show, “Poetic Visions” which will be in Bellingham
Washington Oct ’11-Mar ’12, and will travel to South Carolina. Her work is in over 50

added by Marcy Katz

Awards and grants

Dill has been the recipient of awards and grants from such institutions as the Joan
Mitchell Foundation,[6] New York Foundation for the Arts, National Endowment
for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. She received an Anonymous Was A
Woman award in 2008.