Contemporary Artist Lesley Dill Brings History to Life at KSU’s Zuckerman Museum of Art

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 28, 2023

Exhibition “Lesley Dill, Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me” runs March 14 to May 14

Artist Lesley Dill, a renowned New York-based artist, brings historical and literary figures from America’s past to life in a new exhibition organized by the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa, and is made possible by Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition at Kennesaw State University’s Zuckerman Museum of Art (ZMA), a unit of the School of Art and Design, opens to the public on Tuesday, March 14, and runs through May 14, 2023. 

lesley dill artwork of emily dickinson and voices of time
Lesley Dill, "Emily Dickinson and the Voices of Her Time," 2016. Oil paint, hand-cut paper and thread on fabric-backed acrylic painted paper. Courtesy of the Lesley Dill Studio, Brooklyn, NY.
Textile Sculptures and Banners
Lesley Dill, Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me features a collection of hand-painted and sewn textile sculptures and banners created by Dill over the past seven years. Her work carefully interweaves imagery, text, and historical visionaries into stunning three-dimensional encounters. Gracefully suspended from the ceiling, the clothing of each figure is delicately embellished with words and symbols drawn from their writings and experiences. Hand-painted banners hang on every wall of the gallery with further texts and imagery elaborating on their incredible stories. The exhibition represents Dill’s ongoing investigation into the significant voices and personas of America’s past. 
dress made of words by lesley dill
Lesley Dill, Omnipotence Enough (Emily Dickinson), 2017. Oil paint on fabric, wooden yoke and shoe lasts. Courtesy of the Lesley Dill Studio, Brooklyn, NY.

Obsessions with Divinity and Deviltry
For Dill, the “American” voice grew from early America’s obsessions with divinity and deviltry, on fears of the wilderness “out there” and the wilderness inside us. The extremes of both shaped history and gave pulse and heat to the words of activists like John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Mother Ann Lee, and Dred Scott. Dill writes, “These personas and their times stir something deep in my own family history and sense of self. I was compelled to explore this period in America’s history when limited access to a diversity of written word ignited the bravery of these figures in response to their times.”

Dill’s works are a platform for promoting cultural literacy and American history. Her incorporation of language throughout the exhibition links her works to American literary tradition, while her sculptures and banners derive their power from the lives and words of the people her works represent. Cynthia Nourse Thompson, director of curatorial affairs at the Zuckerman Museum of Art, says, “I am thrilled to host Lesley's exhibition at the ZMA, as it presents numerous opportunities for collaboration among varied disciplines within Colleges at our University.” 

Inspiration from Outspoken Figures
“Lesley Dill’s work allows viewers the unique opportunity to reexamine our nation’s history through the eyes of these outspoken figures,” said Andrew Wallace, director of collections and exhibitions at the Figge and the curator of the new exhibit. “Each of these individuals was a force in their times, and their lives continue to resonate in our current moment.” The book Lesley Dill, Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me, by Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich, is available in conjunction with the exhibition and features essays by Nancy Princenthal, Andrew Wallace, and others. 

Prolific, Well-known Artist 
Dill has had over 100 solo exhibitions. Her artworks are in the collections of many major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art New York, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2017, she was named a fellow of The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and is a Joan Mitchell Foundation Creating A Living Legacy artist and grant recipient. Her opera, Divide Light, based on the poems of Emily Dickinson, was performed in San Jose in 2008. In 2018, the opera was re-staged in New York City and captured in an award-winning film by Ed Robbins. In 2019, Dill received the Emily Dickinson Museum’s Tell it Slant Award. 

headshot of lesley dill
Artist Lesley Dill

Physical Intimacy and Power of Language
Throughout her work, Dill takes the writings of poets and writers––such as Emily Dickinson and Rainer Maria Rilke, among others––and transforms them into works of paper, wire, horsehair, foil, and bronze,  awakening the viewer to the physical intimacy and power of language itself. In Dill’s exhibition Wilderness: Light Sizzles Around Me, the artist amplifies key voices of the North American past as they wrestle with divinity, deviltry, and freedom, including Mother Ann Lee, Black Hawk, Sojourner Truth, John Brown, Emily Dickinson, Horace Pippin, and Sister Gertrude Morgan. 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.

Free Reception, Public Lecture
The public is invited to an opening reception on Thursday, March 16, from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The reception is free with a simple reservation. The artist will give a public lecture in person at the close of the exhibition on Friday, April 14, 2023 at 7:00 p.m. Learn more about the Zuckerman Museum of Art

--Kathie Beckett

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