Raised in part by a mathematician stepfather who helped develop night vision technologies, Laddie John Dill «grew up with laser beams running down the hall”.
Laddie John Dill studied painting and sculpture at the Chouinard Art Institute, but moved toward unconventional materials such as light, glass, and sand after receiving his BFA in 1968.
His career begins with three major encounters: the artists Robert Irwin and Robert Rauschenberg, and the gallery owner Ileana Sonnabend.
Fellow artist Robert Irwin introduce him to Rio Score’s custom neon sign shop in Los Angeles, which is where Dill learns to manipulate electried gases like argon, helium, mercury, neon, and xenon, and how to weld, shape, and color glass tubing. Dill applies these skills to his art practice and began creating his Light Sentences, wall-mounted sculptures that comprise thin, straight neon fixtures made of radiant sequences of multicolored light
In 1968, while Laddie John Dill begin working as a printing apprentice at the new-yorker artist’s workshop and print publisher Gemini Graphic Editions Limited (Gemini G.E.L.), he meets Robert Rauschenberg. During his time there, Dill works with New York - based artists Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg, among others.When Rauschenberg visits Dill’s studio in 1969, he is intrigued by what he saw: Dill has become increasingly interested in how his luminous sculptures interacted with the environment, and had scattered argon and neon tubes around seven thousand pounds of sand.The year after, Rauschenberg invites Dill to collaborate with him, which resulted in an outdoor nighttime art event,The Light Show (1970), on a hilltop in Baldwin Hills (in South Los Angeles) that overlooked the city.
Rauschenberg subsequently introduced Dill to influential gallerist and collector Ileana Sonnabend, who give the young artist his first solo exhibition in her eponymous New York gallery in 1971.The Sonnabend Gallery exhibition launched Dill’s career: he has a solo show at the Pasadena Art Museum the same year and began exhibiting his work in galleries and museums nationwide.
While continuing to make light-based sculptures and installations, from the 1970s onwards Dill also created two-dimensional works employing materials such as cement, minerals and metal. In one such series, he applied washes of cement and ground mineral oxides in a range of colors - sulphuric yellow, brick red, black and cobalt blue - to tempered glass, creating abstract compositions that evoke crystalline or glacial landscapes.
Dill’s preoccupation with luminosity persisted over his fifty-year career, and he continues to experiment with the material and immaterial properties of light in paintings, sculptures, architectural installations, and outdoor laser light shows.
Nowadays, Laddie John Dill’s work is in the permanent collections of prestigious national and international institutions such as the MOMA Museum of Modern Art, NY; LACMA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; MOCA Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; High Museum, GA;The Phillips Collection, DC; Chicago Art Institute, IL; Smithsonian, DC; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, CA; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Pio Monte della Misericordia, Italy; and Museo Jumex, Mexico...
extract by Katia Zavistovski, in Light, Space, Surface, Art from Southern California, LACMA and DelMonico Books, 2021