Everyday Love by Richard Dial at Institute 193, Lexington (Published Burnaway)

The work in Richard Dial’s exhibition Everyday Love maps an intricate emotional landscape, embodying the conviction that deep bonds are nurturing, protective, and selfless. Emotions manifest in solid physical form. These connections are continuous cycles, spinning without end. For his first solo exhibition, in an artistic journey that has extended for more than three decades, eight anthropomorphic sculptures are placed along the perimeter of Institute 193’s gallery. Each work is eloquent, direct, and humble. Crafted from metal with a mix of bold firmness and meticulous finesse, the swirling lines and tightly interwoven surfaces give a sense of motion, transforming the otherwise cold, rigid metal into works that convey fluidity and life.

Drawing on his expertise as a machinist acquired at Pullman Standard Company and in the wake of the region’s industrial decline, Richard and his brother Dan leveraged their skilled labor and entrepreneurial spirit to create Dial Metal Patterns in 1984 with a commitment to producing “high-quality wrought-iron furniture.” The work in the exhibition is connected to Dial Metal Patterns’ “Shade Tree Comfort” collection, which includes distinct custom design and meticulous hand-finishing in the face of mass industrial production.

His creative ambitions have been defined by stops and starts, as they often intersect with personal responsibilities. In the mid-2000s, just as significant museum exhibitions began coming his way, Dial again had to pause his artistic endeavors, prioritizing the care of his elderly father, Thornton Dial. This is his return. These works serve as a chronicle of time spent laboring; they make visible how care is—crucial, generative, and a cherished expression of tenderness, but also how it can be a complex, intertwined, and sometimes chaotic act.

Dial’s chairs employ an aggrandized scale that gives you the feeling of being small, enveloped, and protected, similar to a large, comforting embrace. The chair backs double as the bodies, the interplay of shape, volume, and line to delineate the figure. Among his favorite themes are the mother and child, familial bonds, and the deep relationships that stem from a tightly knit family. Leaning back, sitters would be supported by figures that float above their heads, happily suspended in a state of embrace. The metal lines overlap so the parent and the child are forever connected. In both Everyday Love (2021), and Precious (2021), Dial’s preoccupation with tenderness comes through the juxtaposition of the elongated bodies of the chair that serves as guardian or protector. Their arms swoop around, open, and pull in. Together, they stay.

The seats are padded and upholstered with an assemblage of found materials and fabrics. This process imbues his works with a rich, tactile quality that invites viewers to look closely and discover the myriad details embedded within them. In contrast to the elegiac bodies above them, the seats are bold and brash, full of gestural splotches and colors so deeply saturated into the well-worn, and at times decomposing, fabrics that they speak to themes of labor, the passage of time, or survival.

Each leg is a masterpiece in itself, sculpted with a taper gracefully to the floor, ending in delicately formed feet. Three feet on the ground, bearing the weight of the chair and its occupant with a blend of strength and finesse, the fourth with the heel lifted, only the ball of the slanted foot making contact. To the child, this love appears effortless. But for the parent, Dial has woven together a solid base of structural supports. Stretcher bars and cross-braces provide stability and security to the swirling vines and ladders, ascending bridges on a journey towards a phase of life. 

In Laid Back (2023), smooth, flowing lines depict the voluptuous form of a reclining body, representing themes of vulnerability, fertility, and motherhood. The feminine figure feels weightless, fully free. In a declaration of elegance, Dial meticulously curled and coiled the hair to tumble down the backbone of the bench. The asymmetrical figure implies an intimacy and approachability; meanwhile, the blending of materials (soft with hard, hanging alongside resting) infuses the piece with a physical vigor that suggests that the work exists in a state of eternal becoming.
In the end, Richard Dial’s exhibition offers a renewed appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the human condition. His return to the art world is marked by a collection that bridges the personal with the universal, the tangible with the emotional, reminding one that even in our most ordinary moments, there exists a profound depth of connection and significance. Everyday Love is a homage to the fabric of family, and a profound commentary on the cycles of care that define our existence.