Firestone Lecture 2022

March 24, 2022

Brooklyn-based visual artist and Guggenheim fellow Lesley Dill in her New York studio. She will be lecturing at MBU’s Francis Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 28. (Photo by Ed Robbins.)

Story by Paola Ortiz ’22

Brooklyn-based visual artist and Guggenheim fellow Lesley Dill will offer a thought-provoking lecture at Mary Baldwin’s Francis Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 28. The talk will explore Dill’s use of sculpture, installation, textiles, photography, and more to “awaken viewers to the physical intimacy and power of language.”  

Dill seeks to achieve this goal by drawing inspiration from the writings of famous authors like Emily Dickinson, Franz Kafka, and Rainer Maria Rilke. She uses mixed media to interpret characters, scenes, concepts, emotions, and metaphors expressed within their texts. 

The resulting works oscillate between a spectrum of jarring, beautiful, and grotesque — and are often spectacular in size. 

Brooklyn-based visual artist and Guggenheim fellow Lesley Dill in her New York studio. She will be lecturing at MBU’s Francis Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 28. (Photo by Ed Robbins.)

Take for example the roughly 60 by 25 foot “Rise,” which was exhibited at New York’s Neuberger Museum of Art in 2007. A tail of sheer, streaming shawls erupt from the back of a life size papier-mâché sculpture of an elderly woman sitting barefoot in a chair. The piece spans from floor-to-ceiling and is a uniform vermillion red. The streamers are emblazoned with eloquently scripted phrases plucked from Emily Dickinson poems. 

Lesley Dill's "Rise" installation was exhibited at New York’s Neuberger Museum of Art in 2007.

In New York’s George Adams Gallery, Dill installed an 8-foot-tall wire mannequin featuring a tiarra-crowned head constructed of what looked to be an entanglement of whitewashed tree limbs. Titled “Big Gal Faith,” its shoulders were draped with long strips of word-strewn fabric that flowed over its bell shaped hips and spilled across the floor like the train of a phantasmal Victorian gown. Surrounding walls were plastered with an array of graffiti-esque clippings gleaned from 200-year-old sermons and prayers, scriptural verses, and more.

Lesley Dill exhibited "Big Gal Faith" at the George Adams Gallery in New York in 2012.

Dill’s works go beyond  “a simple visual experience to become a kind of performance,” wrote art critic Benjamin Genocchio in the New York Times. She arranges artworks “in such a way as to present viewers with something similar to a cinematic experience. To enter [a Lesley Dill exhibition] is to step into an imaginary, sometimes winsomely mad fantasy world.”

The novel approach has won the 72-year-old widespread notoriety. Her work has been featured in more than 100 solo exhibitions and is included in the collections of some of the world’s most prestigious artistic institutions — including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Dill’s MBU Firestone Lecture will largely focus on her influential aesthetic and the nontraditional arc of its development, which took a radical turn just after she turned 40. 

“That’s when I became deeply interested in the alchemy of language — the uncertainty of meaning and the resonance within our bodies when a metaphor clicks,” said Dill in a 2014 interview with deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum curator Jennifer Gross. 

“Language is a manifestation of the human need to reach out,” Dill continued. “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.”

Dill’s lecture will be free for faculty and staff, and is open to the public. It will be live-streamed on MBU’s official YouTube page

“As much as my work is about language, it’s also about what the image does to you, about how the two together make a whole.”
Lesley Dill

THE SUSAN PAUL FIRESTONE LECTURE SERIES IN CONTEMPORARY ART  has been bringing noteworthy visual artists and art critics to the Mary Baldwin University campus annually since 2006. It is made possible by funding from the Roger S. Firestone Foundation and honors the work of art therapist Susan Paul Firestone ’68.