Doll House (As She Lived in Her Castles, Life Came and Flew Her Away)
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).
The centerpiece of the Diana series is the colorful, complex metal sculpture, Doll House, roughly ten feet long, seven feet wide, and standing almost eight feet high. It calls to mind a castle, a medieval city, a crown, a tomb, a carnival float, a circus parade . . . or an African American yard show, especially a yard dolled up for the holidays. At front, Diana's white ghost stands above her empty throne (the empty seat is a primary yard-show element) and a pair of lions, symbol of the empire, yet not unlike the dogs that are guardians of the Kongo spirit world and that often appear in African American grave settings and yard shows.
Doll House contains a dozen or more vignettes created from found materials collected by Dial or provided to him by his daughter and granddaughters: artificial flowers, plaster figurines, photographs, Christmas lights, mirrors, polished cabochon stones and faux jewelry, dolls and toys (including a crushed plastic Mercedes-Benz), articles of women's clothing, and an array of consumer goods. These form scenes and events from the drama, and with a proper guidebook to Doll House one could negotiate a walking (and climbing) tour of the life and death of the Princess of Wales. There is even a collection of caricaturish dolls of many skin colors. Gathered around overpainted photographs from news magazines, these dolls represent the funeral procession of Mother Teresa, another "saint" who died shortly after Diana and was smothered in media coverage. Doll House is "signed" with an old photograph of Dial standing by his "junk house" (workshop) in his former Pipe Shop neighborhood. That door's most prominent feature was a cluster of red roses painted on it by Dial in the 1980s. He added the photo to the sculpture after seeing Ronald Lockett's tin assemblage commemorating Princess Di, a work Lockett called England's Rose after the Elton John song of similar title. Dial's comment on affixing the photo to Doll House was, "Dial need to be there."