Monday, March 30, 2009

POETRY AND ART --SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE HUNTER MUSEUM


Yesterday after church at St. Mary’s of Sewanee, we decided, on the spur of the moment, to lunch in Chattanooga to lift our spirits on a cold, gray day. We lunched indoors at the Rembrandt CafĂ© because temps were in the 40’s and drove over to the Hunter Museum to see an exhibit that has been featured since January entitled “I Heard A Voice.” The mixed media exhibit fascinated us, particularly since Lesley Dill’s interest in literature is apparent in her works of art. Some of her installations, which include work in textiles, paper, and metal, incorporate lines of poetry extracted from Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, and Franz Kafka. Language permeates Dill’s work, and she claims that words provide her with a “spiritual armor.”

One of the sculptures, the life-sized form of a woman, is based on Dickinson’s poem “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy.” When I saw it, I thought about Emily’s poetry that was such a radical departure from the conventional life she lived and how the art form I was viewing really did come alive and evoke a feeling of rapture as represented through the form, inspired by the language in the poem.

The only difference between the two artists, Dill and Dickinson, is in the amount of recognition accorded the artists for their work. Emily died, with only seven of her 2,000 poems appearing in print during her life time and was unrecognized for her creative efforts (although her posthumous fame is great). In contrast, Dill has, in her fifties, received tremendous recognition -- a list of her exhibits fill several pages, and she has been featured at the George Adams Gallery, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and many others. She has been awarded numerous grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts Sculpture Fellowship.

I stood, transfixed, before Dill’s “Dress of War and Sorrow,” a silver and black metal foil dress, high necked, tight waisted, with a flowing train and actually felt the angst of futile battles. Bronzes, wire pieces, fabric and paper forms that sometimes address social and spiritual issues highlight the exhibit. Dill uses thread, wire, paper to construct tapestries, and the effect is inventive and unexpected, much like Dickinson’s poetry…or Kafka’s writings. We saw thirty-four pieces of art in the large scale exhibit and also watched a 50-minute film featuring Dill in her workshop, narrating the film. “I Heard A Voice” is reputed to be a “first of its kind” to exhibit in the 57-year history of Hunter Museum and is also a first for the museum in that it will sponsor a tour of the exhibit, along with George Adams Gallery in New York.

Dill lives and works in Brooklyn, New York; her work appears at the George Adams Gallery in New York and Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans. As I’m not a trained art critic, I’m sure this is a slight review of the artist’s work, but perhaps it will titillate art lovers in the area to take a look. Dill’s multi-layered work, rendered in diverse materials, is a visual art experience that transcends conventional figures and forms and evokes much contemplation.
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