Modulations of Light
Knowing Laddie John Dill may be considered as one of the fortunate encounters of a lifetime, and this has been my experience. He is extroverted, cordial and mild, with the mildness of the “great”, and humble with the humility only “great personalities” can afford. It is a matter of the mildness and humility of a true “culture”, which is not only rooted in theoretical studies but also in the personal experiences on the battlefield of life.
This is Dill the person in a nutshell. Then we have the artist and the professional member of the art world who, on the basis of these premises, continues on his course, with greatness and excellence, but at the same time with slowly and silently. He is neither a flash in the night nor a star in the artistic firmament; rather, he is an artist who has begun his research as a very young man and who has continued with acumen throughout his life. And while doing so, he has never yielded to the charm of vain moments of glory, instead almost observing a Franciscan or Buddhist rigour in his everyday life as an artist who explores his talent only through hard and tireless work; ceaselessly, without ever losing heart, without reverential fears and above all without ever yielding to pride and vanity.
The artistic path:
California, early Sixties: everything begins in this sunny land of deserts and oceans, and of light; a special light which is reflected by the ocean surface, permeated by a natural mist which makes it even more violent. When this whitish light encounters the vast stretches of desert immediately behind the ocean, it seems to materialize into something which begins to tremble before one’s eyes. The horizon becomes blurred; the phenomenon is not unlike the one that makes one see mirages in the immense African desert. Air turns into a visible object.
The community of artists who live in this territory begin to feel an impelling need for a break with the past, and above all with the two-dimensionality of the painting medium limited to oil or acrylic on canvas. The group of ideologists pivoting on the charismatic figure of Robert Irwin begins to wrestle with the problem of how to get beyond this dichotomy, what materials to experiment with in order to develop and create art, and last but not least how to reconcile the “naturalistic” setting in which they are immersed, which is part of their life, and turn it into an artistic product that no longer follows the canons of painting, or the classical schemes of rendition of light and space.
They begin to experiment with new materials, introducing elements that are part of their everyday existence in their art, giving them the exceptional character of the work of art. Plastic materials, resins, neon lamps, concrete, glass and aluminium become the means of expression of an entire generation of artists who put these materials, all of which are intended for industry, to artistic uses, thus – to use a present-day expression – making them undergo a genetic modification, subjecting them to different uses and purposes. Equipment and production processes developed for industrial uses are transformed and made to serve artistic aims.
The experiential and emotional humus in which Dill is immersed is frequented by leading figures: the first generation of “revolutionaries” formed by Frank Gehry, DeWain Valentine, Peter Alexander, Larry Bell, Ed Moses; young artists gather around them to found a community of meaning; something more than a circle of artists. All this has reached us intact today, with a generation of heir to that intellectual humus, which has been a source of inspiration even to poets and writers like Bukowski.
«You live in a city all your life… Having grown up in Los Angeles, I have always had the geographic and spiritual feeling of being here. I have had time to get to know this city. I don’t see any other place than LA» (from an interview with Charles Bukowski, 1974).
We define Dill’s works as vibrations of light because, from his early works with neon lights from the Sixties and Seventies (“Light Sentence”), to his compositions in concrete and glass, via his “Light Traps” and his great installations of sand and neon lights, his entire body of works seems to vibrate with a “visual sonority” which modulates the light, mixing it, entrapping it and directing it as in a symphony.
The poetic quality of his works is caused by an aesthetic sense of the light which is entrapped inside the space, and then “released” and made to flow towards the spectator’s gaze; in the works made with forged aluminium of the type used in the aerospace industry, the so-called “Light Traps”, the spectator is captivated, hypnotized by the succession and superimposition of sinuous, fluid and sensual lines: a kind of waves, light waves, which move across and above one another without pause. The eye is lost in their reflections, abandoning itself to a kind of “musical sonority” which is music for the eyes. The hypnotic effect of the vision is accomplished.
The aluminium no longer looks like a metal, but like a fluid and iridescent paste in continuous movement, which shifts from silvery hues to warmer, golden ones, and to colours obtained by pigments immersed in the metal at the moment of forging.
The space only appears to be divided by geometric lines; but this is not the aim of the artist, who on the contrary uses that score only in order to stage a visual, emotional and aesthetic happening. And in terms of aesthetics, the immediate and inescapable reference is the architectural compositions of the artist’s great friend Frank Gehry and the titanium and steel “bricks” covering the buildings designed by him: the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao, the Disney Concert Hall of Los Angeles, the Louis Vuitton Foundation of Paris: it is impossible to deny the existence of a relationship and a shared conceptual basis determined by the need to entrap the light and to reflect it towards the gaze of the spectator; but this is, to both artists, a mere technical expedient used to create works which above all imply an aesthetic sense of light which represents the ultimate expression of the Californian soul. Light as a means of expressing a whole; light as need and expression of religiosity of the I, light as a gaze on the interior infinite.
It is the Californian soul which expresses itself through light, in pure poetics.
And this soul has, in the same way, captured a Caravaggesque sense of light in the works realized for the Pio Monte della Misericordia Foundation of Naples. Here Dill has, not unlike Caravaggio, divided his work into seven imaginary geometric spaces which are nothing but “spaces of light”, the light which Caravaggio has captured and placed right in front of the spectator, who is struck, blinded and hypnotized. It has been easy for Dill to capture the essence of the great master, with a work in which light is not just visual perception but contains an interior dimension, a conceptual sense which, as in Caravaggio, is imbued with both religiosity and sensuality, a lay religiosity which is merely the great sense of spirituality expressed by both artists.
The installations featuring sand, glass and neon as the one realized for the exhibition “Venice in Venice”, held in connection with the Venice Biennial of 2011 at Palazzo Contarini Dagli Scrigni, and remade in a completely new form for Villa di Donato in Naples, deserve particular mention. In this series of works the conceptual union of the natural elements earth, air and fire immerse the spectator in a completely magical atmosphere. What emerges from the sand/earth is a form/space made of reflected light, which is perceptible yet intangible. The way in which the light is “compressed” below a surface and at the same time forcefully issues forth to irradiate the surroundings, can only be defined as an aesthetic expression of the power of the energy which creates life. When exploring these rooms or installations the spectator feels enveloped, carried away, overwhelmed by the sense of mystery emanating from the work. One gets the same feeling of mystery and magic when one enters one of James Turrell’s “rooms”: it is not so much a sensorial experience as an atmosphere, a moment of interior life which must be experienced in solitude and silence, because it is the mystery of the Universe as it relates to the inner life of the I; the richness of the universe as it relates to the inner richness of the I.
And so apparently very distant centuries, personalities and characters come to merge, on the basis of light, and with light: from Caravaggesque light made of intense bands aimed directly at the spectator, to Paolo Veronese’s Venetian “global” luminosity, through Luca Giordano’s light – in some points enveloping and diffused, in others commanding and hard – to the rarefied and “spatial” light of Hackert’s prints, to Dan Flavin’s sometimes blinding and immediately piercing light, we arrive at Dill and his poetic light and mysterious atmospheres.
There is nothing more to say; only to feel.