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 conversation with the artist.

Lesley Dill

January 21, 2012
Sarasota Museum of Art, 1000 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

Lesley Dill
Portrait of Lesley Dill

In addition to its fundraising efforts, the Sarasota Museum of Art continues its tradition of arts programming this year with ARTmuse – a series of invitational events for donors that offer talks and demonstrations by acclaimed visiting artists and curators. Last week, the charming and very real American contemporary artist Lesley Dill visited the historic Sarasota High School and future home of SMOA. This particular event was organized by Ringling College’s faculty member Jill Lerner, SMOA board member Lois Stulberg, and was sponsored by PNC Wealth Management. To date, SMOA has raised exactly $13,924,629.83 -an incredible stride toward achieving its $22 million fundraising goal.

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.

Q: What artists influence you the most in your career?

LD: 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.

Lesley Dill
Lesley Dill, Poem Eyes #3, photo silkscreen shellac, thread on tea stained muslin, 152.5

Q: Have you given any consideration to the permanence of your work?

LD: 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.

Q: How were you discovered, what had you done?

LD: 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.

Q: Where did your love of language develop?

LD: 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.

Lesley Dill
Lesley Dill, Word Queen of Poetry, wire, steel sculpture, 74

Q: What is your relationship to other languages?

LD: 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.

Q: Do you make time for reading?

LD: “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.

Q: What aspects of the contemporary art world would you change if you could?

LD: 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.

Lesley Dill
Lesley Dill, Eye Drop, Copper, woood, thread, ink on handmade paper, 48

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 Dill
Lesley Dill, Copper Poem Hands, 1994, Copper and Wire, 62 x 20 x 2 inches

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.

For more information about the SMOA visit: http://www.ringling.edu/index.php?id=smoa

Lesley Dill visit: http://www.lesleydill.net/

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