Bad Picture / Stone Walls
Painting: Paint, metal, industrial sealing compound, on unstretched canvas
The death of Princess Diana in 1997 catalyzed Dial's most ambitious series of artworks to date, executed in the tradition of religious art "cycles" that memorialize the lives of holy or noble figures. The cycle comprises four "stations": (1) the moment of death (Bad Picture); (2) the funeral procession and departure of the soul (Doll House and Last Trip Home); (3) the state of the world she lived in (Royal Flag and Master of the Red Meat); and (4) the moral, or the attempt to universalize the subject's meaning and effect (Stone Walls and Diana's Closet).
Bad Picture, represents Diana's demise. Part burial monument, part jeremiad against society's ghoulish fascination with celebrity tragedies, the work depicts an eerie figure riding a bicycle above cagelike wreckage surrounded by paparazzi and the accident's victims, Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. The paparazzo at the rear of the sculpture is sexually aroused by the opportunity to snap the dying princess. Dial was drawn to the media's feasting on Diana's corpse. His reasons exceed the expected artistic interest in dramatic subject material, for his own reputation and career had been severely damaged a few years earlier by members of the media, with aftereffects that lingered for him at the time of Diana's death. Perhaps his treatment of the photographer in Bad Picture is a whimsical attempt (Dial calls it a "serious joke") at score-settling.
Dial conceived Stone Walls as a backdrop, a cemetery-like wall of doom, for the Diana sculptures. Its title refers to the buildings Dial saw in the televised coverage of Diana's funeral—Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and other grand old London edifices—but "stone walls" also alludes to conspiracies, cover-ups, intentional distortions, and historical fictions. Dial filters the British stone walls through the African American strip-quilt's predilection for vertically stacked blocks and improvisational compositions. The complex of rooftops/windows/stones/grave markers is partially encircled by reused bent-metal floral decorations made by Dial in the '70s and early '80s to give or sell to neighbors and friends to set on graves.