Art in relief

Laddie John Dill

Laddie John Dill’s art installation in Reno reflects the Northern Nevada landscape.

Laddie John Dill’s art installation in Reno reflects the Northern Nevada landscape.

Photo By David Robert

Laddie John Dill’s sculpture is displayed at the South Virginia Common’s shopping center at the junction of South Virginia Street and Sierra Center Parkway.

A new shopping center might seem an odd choice to display fine art. But Laddie John Dill loves it.

“I grew up in the era that art should not be seen,” said the 63-year old artist from Southern California during a visit to Reno. He’s rebelled against that philosophy with public art works in Los Angeles and a 30x8-foot piece adorning a Pasadena parking structure, though most of his work is found in museums and galleries.

Now he adds Reno’s South Virginia Commons’ shopping center to his “outdoor” list. Twenty geometrical pieces are fitted together and mounted onto four arched sections of the building facing street-side. Triangles flow into quadrangles, hurdling sharp angles and smooth curves in a kinetic motion of color and light.

Above the work are signs for a hair salon, a Mexican restaurant, a jeweler and a Starbucks. Sections of it are even placed around a door labeled as the building’s electrical and fire alarm control room. Home Depot towers across the street in its boxy orangeness. None of it seems to bother Dill.

“I knew this was a very transient zone,” said Dill, standing on the sidewalk between the shopping center and South Virginia Street, where cars rushed past during the work’s installation. “People are going to see this thing as they go driving or walking by.” He wanted the piece to have a simple, graphic impact that someone driving by could quickly appreciate, while those who inspect it closely would be rewarded by a more detailed world of Tahoe blue cobalt oxides, Sierra Nevada mountain red iron oxides and cloud-like waves etched softly into aluminum.

On the recommendation of Turkey Stremmel, co-owner of Stremmel Gallery (where some of Dill’s work is also displayed), the shopping center’s developers chose Dill for his reputation for landscape art. Not “landscape” as in a cow munching languidly on grass near a lake and some pretty trees. Rather, his landscapes look like satellite images taken from space—rivers run into oceans, which hit unknown shores that turn into deserts and then rise into mountains in almost topographical relief.

His colors come directly from the earth—oxides and crushed rocks and minerals like sulfur and basalt—all of which are displayed on tempered glass.

“A lot of minerals and oxides in these colors are indigenous to California and Nevada,” said Dill.

The final factor in the piece couldn’t be more natural, yet Dill has little control over it—the sun. His work, specifically his waves of aluminum, is designed to trap the light and change with it.

“In the morning, this is a completely different piece,” said Dill, looking through black sunglasses in the late afternoon.

Dill studied at the Chouinard Art Institute and, at age 28, was offered his first one-man show at the Illeana Sonnabend Gallery in New York. In 1968, he was an apprentice printer at West Hollywood’s Gemini, where he worked closely with artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenberg and Roy Lichtenstein. He says he was influenced by Rauschenberg and other artists “who were working with earth materials, light and space as an alternative to easel painting.”

His work is exactly that—somewhere between a sculpture and a painting. And while you’re getting your frappuccino or power drill or hair cut or whatever, it’s definitely something worth stopping for.